Here's the final chapter to Shatter (finally). For this last piece, I fittingly incorporated some scenes and elements from Obsession.
This was a horrible idea.
Even as beads of sweat gathered at her brow she scrutinized the paper as she would any other day, though Mary was all too aware it was becoming harder and harder with each passing moment. She examined the paper closely, eyes scanning the lines to check for any imperfections in syntax or appearance. It had taken her well over two hours to put all the letters in place for this page and she wanted it to be flawless. Now was not the time to make a mistake. She had to prove she could do this.
Once satisfied with the test document, she brought it to her work table and set it with the other dried leafs. Yet as she stood over the table her brows knitted in discomfort. She barely recognized the materials on her desk, her vision becoming a secondary sense to the disorienting sensations running through her. She placed both palms on the pine table and leaned into them, closing her eyes and taking two deep breaths.
I just need a moment.
She stood there, unmoving and welcoming the sun's warmth coating her back from the generous window behind her. Realigning her body to a standing position and lifting her head, Mary decided her fatigue was not abated. Opening her eyes, she began to walk around the table, tracing her hand around its edge as she went to her simple Cottonwood chair.
Slowly Mary sat herself down, using the table as an anchor. Ample sweat now slicked her entire forehead. She panted audibly, berating herself silently for being so careless. She desperately wanted a glass of water but as she looked in the direction of the back room where she left the water pail, she realized the walk was simply too dangerous at the moment. She needed time. She wouldn't risk the trip for either of them - she would just have to wait until Inez arrived with lunch.
Chris was right, she mused dejectedly.
They had argued before he left three days ago, perhaps the worst they ever had. He wanted her to find someone to take over The Clarion. She flatly refused, stating she couldn't believe anyone could do a satisfactory job, even if only temporarily. His uncharacteristic temper flared and rather than implore or ask her as he had done before it came out as a command. She reacted as if he had slapped her. She made it clear she couldn't believe he would tell her to do such a thing. That he knew how important the newspaper was to her. Trying to keep his voice level, he countered that he didn't want her trying to keep up with the work. But what irked her most was what he said next - that she couldn't keep up with it.
He should have known better, as it only lit a fire in her determination to prove him wrong. She charged out of the kitchen, speechless with vehemence and did not speak to him for the rest of the night, even when he came to bed.
But in spite of the tension that resonated throughout that night and in spite of their disagreement, when they said goodbye the next morning there was no doubt in her mind that there was anything but genuine love between them.
They stood on the porch of the homestead as she hugged a shawl to her chest to ward off the chill of the early morning frost. She watched as Billy helped his surrogate father cinch the last of his stallion's saddle bags and offered him a pack of jerky for the road. Billy was never liked it when Chris left, which was evident by the way the boy hugged the gunslinger goodbye. As Chris stood up and glanced at Mary, he encouraged Billy to give parting words of encouragement to his horse before they left. As Billy dutifully scampered off Chris returned his attention to Mary, stepping back onto the porch. Wordlessly, he pulled her close and kissed the top of her head. Recognizing the mixture of despondency and sincerity, she did not pull away.
"I'm sorry, Mary. I want you to be safe," he murmured into her golden hair as they embraced farewell.
"I'll be careful."
"You swear?" He pulled away and looked at her directly in the eye.
"I swear, yes." She found it ironic that he was the one leaving for another dangerous journey yet was imploring her to be cautious.
"If anything happened to you, either of you…"
"I know." She didn't need any more explanation. "Hurry back, Chris."
She tilted her head up to look at him and was met by the most stunning gaze she had ever seen. It reaffirmed in her mind there was no other man she would rather be married to in spite of their imperfect relationship. Their goodbye kiss promised a passionate reunion, while speaking volumes of their genuine love for one another. It lingered on her lips long after the mists of the morning shrouded his retreating form and she ushered Billy back to the warmth inside.
Blinking back to reality, Mary found herself sitting in The Clarion. She sighed. It wasn't even noon yet and she was already getting lost in her thoughts concerning a very familiar subject. It was almost a year to date since their wedding – though almost unbelievably so. It had taken them over four years of friendship to get that point. And even during their friendship every time he left she looked forward to the moment when she saw him again.
Of course she knew the nature of his work and what she was getting into. Still, she didn't like it when that work took him away from her. Especially now, she lamented silently as she placed a hand on her swollen abdomen.
Seven months in she thought she would be well readjusted to pregnancy. But this one was much different than Billy's. Back then Stephen had primarily run the newspaper, now she relied on only herself to do it. She was rediscovering her limits, much to Chris' concern, and testing what she could and couldn't do.
Nevertheless she was thrilled to be having another child growing inside of her. It made her smile to think of all the love this baby would receive from its six uncles. And though she prided herself on being independent, it didn't hurt to have six men just as attentive as her husband while she was with child. Both Josiah and Buck had been naturals around her these past months but she had never seen Ezra more awkwardly eager to please than before. It always made her laugh.
Shaking her head with amusement and feeling a new sense of vigor, Mary sighed. She might as well get some water in the back room to refresh herself and try to get a little more work done. Surely a drink would make her feel better. I can do this. I'm strong enough. Using the table again, she hoisted herself to her feet and slowly made her way to the tiny hallway. Just as she had penetrated deep enough to be out of site in the main room she heard the door open.
Cursing silently, she stopped. She didn't enjoy people coming in and seeing her in her current state. In the West it was not uncommon for women to be out in public throughout their pregnancy but Mary didn't revel in the necessity. Slowly turning to greet her patron, she walked back out to the main room, pasting a smile on her face and hoping whoever it was would leave quickly.
"Hello," she greeted, seeing a dark haired woman with her back to Mary. Immediately, she could tell the woman was not only wealthy but attractive. Her dress was a far cry from the usual calico most women in Four Corners wore. The silk and layers of fabric must have come from Europe. Her hair was glossy and straight – the woman could clearly afford to keep up her appearance. She seemed to be intensely examining the room, visually appraising the walls, the floor, even the windows as if she was judging every inch of the space.
Eager to take care of the woman's needs and then attend to her own, Mary pressed her lightly. "May I help you?" Mary's question jarred the woman out of whatever introspection she was lost in. Slowly the woman turned and Mary's heart nearly stopped beating. She knew that face.
"Hello," the woman replied coolly. While there was no indication of recognition on her part Mary's heartbeat began to race with dread.
"May I help you?" Mary repeated, eyeing the door, looking for a possible getaway. But the woman stood squarely in her way, she would not be able to move fast enough to make an escape.
"Only if you can tell me," Ella Gaines began reaching into her purse, "Why you ever thought it was a good idea to get within ten feet of Chris Larabee." Mary's body went cold as Ella pulled out a derringer.
"I don't discuss personal matters with my patrons." She tried to stand a little taller. "And I don't allow patrons to bring firearms inside. Please step outside with that." Ella gave her a look, quirking her eyebrows in hostility.
"Don't play games with me." She laughed without humor, briefly throwing her head towards the ceiling. "I could have had his children." She continued with a disquieting serenity, "He loved me long before you seduced him and he still loves me more than you'll ever know. He's just forgotten." Her voice was rising.
Alarms went off in Mary's head.
"How did you do it?" She railed on. "How did you make him give you this?" She gestured to Mary's stomach. "Did you corner him one night after he was at the saloon? Did you repay him for helping your precious town?" She sneered. "No matter how good it felt I can tell you he gave it to me ten times harder."
The anger building within Mary threatened to unleash itself from this recent indignation, in spite of the current danger she was in. But she kept her head level. "You've made enough inappropriate insinuations regarding my husband. Please leave."
"Don't call him your husband as if that means something!" Ella growled, stepping closer. "You have no claim to him. He doesn't love you like he loves me, no matter what is inside of you. You roped him into all of this. You tricked him! You're no better than a ten-cent whore."
"He was never yours. No matter what delusions you use to convince yourself otherwise. Get out of my office." As soon as the words left Mary's mouth, she regretted them. The look in Ella's eyes was terrifying.
Ella Gaines smiled wickedly as she raised the gun to shoot. "You took him from me, you bitch. And now I'll make you pay."
Mary Travis walked along the boardwalk, admiring the late spring day and smiling at each of her customers as she handed out copies of The Clarion. She was making her way to the jail to give copies to the seven men and catch up on any news to pass along to the judge.
But she had another reason for smiling. It was Thursday and Billy was going to arrive that afternoon from his time away at his grandparents' home. Moreover, Chris promised to come eat with them this evening and she had quite the meal in mind. She had last been alone with him two days ago in the church where they had shared more than one kiss. Since then they had passed in the street, shared brief conversations in public but nothing that satisfied Mary. Their insignificant encounters only left her wanting more.
But as she came closer to the jail her senses livened. All seven men were saddling up to leave. Something must have come up. I hope it's nothing too dangerous. She easily recognized Chris, facing the street and dusting off his black hat. She picked up the pace, eager to speak to him before they rode off.
"Any idea how long you'll be gone?" She asked as she approached him. He looked up.
"Just a day or two," he smiled reassuringly. "It'll be fine." Mary nodded slowly, wondering why he gave no indication as to where they were going but asked no more questions. A woman came from behind them to stand between Chris and her. Mary immediately noticed her extravagant outfit and the strong perfume that announced her presence.
Seeing Mary's reaction the woman replied, "I'll have them back in no time." Mary leaned away, slightly repulsed by her obvious display of opulence. "Except for Chris." Mary balked in disgust at her lascivious tone. The woman made no attempt to disguise her hungry stares at the gunman. "Chris, would you like to ride in the carriage? We could reminisce about…old times." Mary couldn't believe it. She looked to Chris with an incredulous look on her face, only to see him unperturbed by the woman's licentious tone. On the contrary, a small, playful smile spread across his face.
Mary immediately turned, walking back up the street towards The Clarion. She wanted no more of this. Apparently as soon as an old flame of Chris' had come to town seeking his help and he simply ignored Mary. He made no attempt to let her know he would not be coming by that evening - didn't even bother to tell her all seven would be out town, something he usually had the courtesy to do. If he could throw her to the side to make room for another woman so quickly, Mary was resolved to forget about him too.
"Ella," Mary said steadily, keeping her wits. "Please, don't."
"Don't?" Ella looked furious. "I didn't get to say 'don't' when you married him."
"Please put down the gun. You can just put down the gun and ride out of town." At Ella's unfazed expression, Mary could feel her confidence begin to slide into terror.
She laughed humorlessly. "Do you know how hard it was for me to get here?" She kept the gun leveled at Mary's chest. "By the time I heard you married Chris you already had this-" she scrunched her nose in repulsion, "thing inside of you. Do you know how hard it is to find someone who will kill a woman who is with child?" She scoffed and shook her head in frustration. "I had to come see it through myself."
The mention of her child made Mary desperate. "Please. My baby hasn't done anything to you. Let my baby live. Put the gun down. Please." Mary's voice audibly cracked with stress.
"That thing is taking him away from me, you bitch!" She lowered the gun to Mary's abdomen. "I should shoot it first so you can feel it die inside of you."
A sob of terror escaped Mary's mouth as Ella threatened her unborn baby with the gun. Instinctively her arms wrapped around her bulge, as if it was a last effort to save her child. She felt helpless, knowing she wouldn't be able to attack Ella or move quick enough to escape the gun's aim.
"Ella, please." Mary didn't realize she was crying until hot tears flowed down her cheeks. She continued the frenzied begging, hoping she could reach some core in Ella to stop her worst nightmare from coming true.
Ella raised her chin defiantly. "You disgust me."
Mary heard nothing but an unintelligible thunderous noise. She closed her eyes, too terrified to look down and see her fears realized.
As she walked into The Clarion and closed the door behind her, Mary's heart was heavy. Rather than the recent indignation she felt towards Chris she now sorrowfully wished things were different. Perhaps it was because he came back to town with a bullet in his side that her compassionate nature awakened. But the picture she just saw of Ella and him cast her back into a melancholy she had never known before. A thousand images of what exactly Chris had done while enjoying Ella's company ran through her head. She had looked at him regretfully, waiting for an explanation, an apology, something. But when no response was his response she turned away and went inside, wilted and exhausted from the emotions laboring her body.
She crossed her arms, her back to the entrance as she stared at a wall, noting how dark the room had become in the late afternoon. I've been such a fool.
Vaguely she heard the door open slowly. "Mary." She turned to see Chris, still wrapped in a blanket, enter The Clarion's door and shuffle inside. It was obvious the effort was painful.
"You shouldn't be standing." She hurried across the room and put an arm around him, encouraging him to lean on her. They wordlessly limped over to a bench against the wall. He sat slowly, grimacing with the exertion. "I'm sorry." It was clear from his expression the apology was about more than his inability to walk.
She crossed her arms over her chest, glancing out window then at the floor before she faced him. "It's not my business what you do in your spare time." Her face was as stone cold as it had been on the boardwalk.
"Being with Ella was fun," he emphasized the last word, "but it wasn't right. It was like living in a haze. Nothing was real." He shook his head, breaking their gaze. "Maybe I needed that. To get away." A clench gripped Mary's heart. "I needed a little paradise. But it all caught up to me real quick. She's nothing more than a snake." He paused, looking back up at her. "But I don't want all of this to get in the way." He reached out and took her warm hand in his. "I don't want to start over." Mary wanted to feel relief at his words and his touch but she was anything but placated.
"That would be nice for both of us, Chris. But truthfully I can't imagine starting up again after all this." She said her next words slowly, with importance. "You hurt me. You threw me aside while you went chasing after something from your past. How do I know you won't do it again?" She shook her head. "You passed me by so quickly for something else that now I don't know if I can trust you." She retracted her hand from his.
"What's it gonna take?"
"Until I know that you really care about me." She paused, shifting her weight. "Until I know you're not fickle. I've been forgiving in the past but I don't have time for this anymore."
"Mary, you should know that everything that's happened showed me how much I l-"
"Don't," she interrupted impatiently. "Either you don't mean it or you're saying it in desperation. Either way I don't wait to hear it right now." She turned away from him. "Now if you'll excuse me I have work to do."
Mary's eyes closed involuntarily, expecting to feel pain succumb her entire body. But when she opened them after less than a second, she saw Ella clutching her bloody arm in disbelief and facing the window. A large rock rolled away from her, having just come through the front glass.
"Argh!" She wailed.
The front door was nearly ripped off the hinges in an instant as Inez came barreling through and threw herself at Ella. Both women fell to the floor, wrestling the other for the gun. Mary felt powerless as she knew her condition would make her more of a hindrance if she intervened. Inez shouted curses at the woman, finally untangling the derringer from Ella's grip. Inez jumped to her feet, pointing the gun at Ella, eyes wild with rage and teeth bared as Buck and Nathan ran up to the door, guns drawn.
"Inez?" Buck voiced their confusion, looking between the Mexican woman and Ella. Then realizing the gravity of the situation, he looked up frantically for Mary. Upon seeing her, his face eased in relief, though only slightly.
"Mary? Are you alright?" Nathan side stepped around Ella and came next to Mary, appraising her with his eyes.
"I think so." She knew it sounded foolish but right now she was uncertain of everything. She was still processing what had taken place in the last minute. She looked at herself, checking for any apparent wounds.
"What the hell happened?" Buck demanded. Ella looked to her arm, pulling bloody shards of glass from the deep gash above her elbow.
Inez didn't take her eyes of Ella or raise her gun. "I came to bring Mary some tamales and saw this she-devil through the window." She tilted her head to the side, then briefly glanced at Buck. "She was pointing this gun at Mary."
Had she not known the man for years, Mary wouldn't know that Buck was fighting to keep himself calm. He looked at Ella as if he was looking at the Devil himself. His stare reeked of disgust. Regaining control of his role, Buck briefly looked around the room before her stepped next to Inez.
He put a hand on Inez's outstretched arm, lowering it. "We got it from here." Buck looked at Nathan, silently communicating with his lips pressed together and a tight nod, then addressed the woman on the floor. "Get up, Ella," he commanded. She slowly relented, stepping to her feet with a scowl on her face. Noting her inclination to make things difficult, Nathan added, "You should know we both got guns and ain't afraid to use them on a lady... If I can even call you that." Buck motioned for her to step out the door, heading towards the jail.
"I should have had all you men killed when I had you under my roof," Ella spat. The sound of her voice struck some chord inside Mary and she immediately felt vulnerable again. She wound her arms around her abdomen, intuitively protecting her child from the perceived threat.
"Mary?" Mary looked at Nathan, framed by The Clarion's door. He was about to step back outside behind Ella but had stopped. "You mind coming by? I want to take a better look at you so we make sure everything is okay." Mary nodded and Nathan stepped outside, headed to the jail with Ella.
Mary heaved a sigh and briefly covered her face with her hands, as if to wipe away the panic that still ran wild in her chest. She turned to her friend, lowering her hands. "Thank you, Inez." In an uncommon moment of tenderness, Inez walked up to Mary and put her arms around her, rubbing her back affectionately. "Thank God you're safe."
"Thank God you came." They stepped back from each other.
"If you and the little one had been hurt, none of us would be able to forgive ourselves." She exhaled deeply. "I don't know what would have happened to Chris."
The idea of her husband mourning another dead wife and child whirled in Mary's head. She knew it would crush him and the notion sent a wave of depression through her. "I can't imagine it."
"Can I get you something? Do you want to sit down?"
"No, thank you. I should go see Nathan. If I need to take care of anything for the baby, I want to do it now." She touched her hair and looked down at her appearance, making sure it was still in place before she walked out in public. "Could you do something for me, Inez?"
"Will you go ask Gloria to watch Billy this afternoon? School should be out soon. But I don't want him to see this." She looked around the room at the shattered window and broken glass. For a moment she thought she would burst into tears but she regained herself.
"You don't want me to walk you to the jail?"
Mary's characteristic independence resurfaced. "No thank you, I'll be fine."
Inez regarded her warily, as if she doubted Mary's ability to take care of herself at the moment. She finally nodded in a way that told Mary she was convincing herself Mary would be fine. "Ok, I'll go find Gloria. But if you need anything else," She put a hand on Mary's arm and looked at her deliberately, "all you need to do is ask."
"I appreciate it." Inez smiled briefly and turned, walking out of The Clarion.
In her new found solitude, Mary looked around at the mess. She wanted to clean it up, wipe it away and forget about it but she felt compelled to see Nathan immediately. Grabbing her shawl from the coat rack by the door, she wrapped it around her shoulders and tried to cover up her abdomen as much as possible. She carefully stepped over the broken glass, walked out the door and locked it behind her. As she made her way towards the jail she became perhaps the most self- conscious she had ever been. People stared openly. Undoubtedly, they had heard the commotion and peeked into the scene at the newspaper office. Now word was spreading like wildfire. The beautiful, young newspaper editor with child was almost murdered in a crime of passion. Mary tugged her shawl closer around her body and picked up the pace. She didn't like feeling as if she was on display.
Within minutes she reached the jail. She stood outside for a minute, hoping Buck or Nathan might see her and come join her on the boardwalk. Yet neither came. Mary took a deep breath, reminding herself she had nothing to be afraid of. Ella was in their capable hands and Mary was a strong woman. She might have been vulnerable earlier but she would not let Ella get the best of her. Summoning her confidence and tilting her head up, Mary walked inside.
Nathan and Buck leaned over the desk by the cells, speaking in quiet tones. Surprisingly, Ella sat on the bed in the cell quietly, a sour but distinguished look on her face. Upon seeing Mary, Ella did nothing but shift her eyes to meet Mary's. Instantly, Ella's eyes began to smolder like hot coals. Buck and Nathan noticed her entrance too and straightened to stand.
"Mary," Nathan looked between her and Ella. "I didn't think you'd come so soon. I'm sorry, did you look for me at the clinic?"
"No, I figured you'd still be here." She gave her best effort at a reassuring smile. "It's all right. I just want to make sure everything is okay with the baby."
"You go to hell with that demon inside you!" Ella leaped up suddenly, screaming and causing Mary to jump at the sudden noise. Immediately, Nathan stepped in front of her, protectively blocking her from Ella's view.
Buck was at the cell in an instant. "Lord help me, I'll gag you if I have to!" His voice was sparked with fury. "You talk to her again and those will be the last words that come out of your mouth until you get your day in court." His voice was lethal and left no room for doubt.
Nathan turned back around to Mary and began to approach her with soothing, outstretched hands. "Let's get you up to the clinic and we'll have a look." He threw a glance over his shoulder. "Buck, you okay down-"
He stopped and frowned. The sounds of riders coming closer thumped louder with each passing second. Picking up on the noise, Buck stalked his way across the room to the entrance and stood at the door frame with his hands on his belt. As the hoofbeats came closer, Mary could hear laughing just beyond the doorway. Buck watched silently for a minute, presumably as the riders dismounted. She could hear the faint sounds of Vin and Josiah's voice, in a light and teasing manner.
"Howdy, Buck." Mary heard JD say. Buck didn't move from the door or relax his stance. She imagined his face had a grave expression written across it. "Something wrong?"
"Hey Chris," Buck called out, ignoring the question. "Would you come up here?"
"In a minute," Mary heard her husband respond. His voice sounded dismissive and distracted, as if he was walking away. Perhaps he was already headed to The Clarion.
"Mary's in here, Chris." He paused. "I need you up here."
It was no more than two seconds that Chris had come up and nearly pushed past Buck into the jail, clearly anxious about what he would find. His eyes didn't have to search long before they landed on her. In three quick strides, he had his hands gently on her shoulders and was looking directly at her, concern bounding over his face.
"Mary," he asked softly, "What-"
"Chris." Her voice sucked the air out of the room and even chilled Mary. Upon hearing her, he tore his look from his wife and threw it on the face of the woman who killed two of the most important people in his world years ago.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Chris' face contorted in a mixture of confusion, disbelief and revulsion.
"I've missed you so much." Ella walked to the edge of her cell, placing her hands on the bars and watching Chris desperately. "I couldn't imagine you forgot about me."
The seething rage boiling over Chris' face was too much for him to conceal. "What the hell happened?" He looked around the room, first at Buck, then at Nathan and last at Mary. When their eyes met she recognized a flicker of realization in his.
"What did she do to you?" His voice was low as if he was struggling to keep it under control.
For a brief instance Mary had the urge to throw herself into his arms and recount the miserable, terrifying scenario that had just played out in The Clarion. She wanted him to comfort her as she bared the truth of just how frightened she was, how she thought she would never see Billy or him again and that their child would never have a chance at life. But Mary knew Chris was dangerously close to the edge of absolute fury. She had to watch her words while he was in this precarious situation or he could do something he would regret later.
But Mary hesitated in answering for too long.
Chris dropped his hands from her shoulder, stepping threateningly closer to Ella. "Did you touch her?"
"I need you, Chris. I told you I would never let anything come between us." Ella began to sob.
The world instantly moved. Buck and Vin, who had just come in, were on Chris immediately, restraining him as he tried to lunge for the cell, while spewing a litany of curses at Ella. Nathan was at Mary's side, ushering her out the door and away from the chaos. She walked past Josiah and Ezra who were just entering off the street. They shut the door immediately after she stepped outside with Nathan. It was only once they were on the boardwalk that Mary realized a small group of townspeople had gathered to see what was the noise was. A few of them called her name in questioning tones as they walked by. Mary tightened her grip on Nathan's arm and cast her gaze down. Now was not the time to deal with this. She didn't want this.
"J.D.?" Nathan called behind them, not breaking his stride towards the clinic or his own hold on Mary.
J.D. jogged up alongside them, matching their quickening pace. "What's going on, Nathan? What the hell happened back there?"
"I just need you to wire the Judge right now. Tell him to come as quick as he can. Tell him we got Ella Gaines here for attempted murder."
J.D.'s mouth fell open as he tipped his hat back to amply expose his forehead. Muttering a curse, he quickly turned and started towards the post office.
Nathan and Mary said nothing to each other as they approached the clinic. As they began to scale the stairs, Nathan slowed his pace and gripped her arm a little tighter, silently encouraging her to lean on him. Mary took the stairs in measured steps and made it to the second floor without a problem. Nathan opened the door for her, ushering her inside. Once the door was shut Mary sat down on the examination board as she had done before, though with much more trepidation. Scenes from the morning replayed in her head for what seemed like the hundredth time. Emotions engorged her as if she was reliving the experience all at once. Anxiety took over and without thinking Mary laid her hands on the cusp of her swollen abdomen, heaving a sigh.
"Do you want to talk about what happened?"
Nathan's gentle but concerned tone made her smile, in spite of the wretched way she felt. She looked over to him, certain that her disquiet was spread across her features. "I need to know everything is okay first." He nodded solemnly, pulling out his stethoscope from the desk drawer. He came over to the examination table, put the stethoscope on, and gingerly placed it where her hands had just been.
After a few minutes of concentrated listening, Nathan looked up, smiling.
"Baby's fine as far as I can tell. Heartbeat is still strong." A swell of relief overcame her. "Thank God," she breathed, "Thank you."
Nathan smiled briefly and gave her wrist a gentle squeeze. "Now do you want to-"
He paused as the clinic's door began to open, abruptly standing to attention. Yet as the first black boot stepped inside, both of them knew the newcomer was no threat to either of them. Although Chris looked much less livid than twenty minutes earlier though he was evidently no less concerned.
Upon seeing Nathan, Chris pursed his lips and gave a tight nod of greeting. He pushed back his black hat to fall behind his shoulders.
"Everything alright down there?"
"As good as it will be." He looked past the healer, his stare meeting that of his wife. His eye contact never wavered even when he spoke. "Everything alright here?"
"You don't have to worry, both of them are fine." Chris' shoulders visibly relaxed.
"I should go see if Buck needs anything." Chris put an arm on Nathan's shoulder as he passed by in a brief display of camaraderie. Once the door closed again, Chris came and sat next to Mary on the examination table. He said nothing but enveloped her in hug, an act of what Mary suspected was relief. She returned it wholeheartedly and noted her own relief that the sorrow and fear she had experienced that morning was now over - at least for the most part.
"You're safe." He said it as if that was all that mattered. She couldn't bring herself to say anything, but squeezed him tighter. Without relinquishing the strength of his hold, Chris brought a hand up to stroke her hair slowly. "Tell me what happened."
She pulled away to look at his face. There had been very few times she ever saw the emotions as clearly written on Chris' face. Only in times when pure and unadulterated feelings would suffice had she ever been able to read his expressions so easily. The first that came to mind was the moment he told her that he loved her. The second was their wedding day. Both instances were a far cry from the horrific tone of today.
She closed her eyes tightly and furrowed her brows, preparing herself to begin.
"I was in The Clarion this morning, just before lunch. I was editing a page I had just printed when I had a little vertigo and needed to sit down. After a moment I got up to get a glass of water. I was halfway down the hallway when I heard the front door open. When I came back into the main room Ella was standing there." Chris' eyes flickered with foreboding but encouraged her to continue.
"I tried to stay calm and asked her if I could help her. But at once she began by asking me why I thought it was a good idea to come into your life and accused me of manipulating you. She became angrier and angrier with me, especially when I asked her to leave. And then she pulled out her gun, pointed it at my chest first, then at the baby. When I begged her to let the baby live, she became incensed. There was no way for me to move around her and escape." Chris protectively put a hand on her abdomen.
"She told me-" Mary paused, trying to push down the lump in her throat that would not go away. "She told me she wanted to shoot the baby so I could feel it die inside of me." For the second time that day, Mary's cheeks became wet with tears. "What kind of person says that, Chris? What kind of person hates an innocent child so much that she would commit murder?" She now clutched his forearm with both hands.
"Inez threw a rock inside the window. She was bringing my lunch and saw Ella threatening me. The glass cut Ella and she dropped the gun long enough for Inez to restrain her. And soon after Nathan and Buck heard the commotion and came running to help." She leaned into him, willing herself to not renew her sobs.
"I've seen evil, but none like Ella Gaines." He stroked her hair again. "I'm sorry, Mary. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left you. I should have known she would find her way back here."
Mary's memory snapped to a conversation they had before they married, where Chris was concerned about the ramifications of their marriage and the dangers involving Ella. Mary persisted, almost angrily, that Ella would not be a menacing ghost over their lives. That they owed it to each other and themselves to do what they both wanted. Though now Mary briefly wondered in that moment if she was wrong to declare Ella wouldn't dictate their lives, she calmed herself when she remembered Ella was now locked away.
"She's gone now, Chris. Thank God she's gone." She felt him lower his head to the top of hers and place an affectionate kiss there. Long moments passed before they ended their embrace.
Judge Travis came in a speedy three days and delivered a verdict in an even speedier two. Though encouraged to stay away from the commotion, Mary yet again defied expectations and tradition when she demanded to testify against Ella. The episode created a highly sensational event but ironically there was no Clarion News running at the time to cover it. For all of Mary's testimony, combined with the insurmountable evidence that Ella attempted murder, Ella earned the distinction of being one of the first women to be executed in the territory.
Ella had her day at the gallows on an unseasonably cold spring day. People came from neighboring towns to watch the event, reporters staked out their position hours before to illustrate the best recount of the execution. Neither Chris nor Mary was in attendance. Each had their own reasons for missing the hanging but both felt their time would be better spent far away from the scene, at home and recovering from the hurricane that had been their lives.
A month later, life had resumed its normal pace – as normal as it would ever be, anyway. Mary had tried to return to The Clarion but it was ultimately her pregnancy that prevented her. Though she felt defeated Chris assured her the decision wasn't a mark of her inability to run a business as a woman, it was a smart decision to protect the well-being of their unborn child.
Chris still left town on occasion in pursuit of criminals, though his six friends prevented it more as the end of Mary's pregnancy rapidly approached. Soon she was unable to leave their homestead without great effort and Chris elected to stay home with her. Billy became a surprising help to his mother as she tired quickly and couldn't complete as many of her chores. Billy valiantly stepped in to help, much to Chris' praise and occasional reminder when the boy wasn't feeling so motivated to keep working. It seemed like the three of them developed a routine but just as they steadily fell into it things changed.
In the middle of the night, Chris woke with a start to sounds of his wife crying in pain. They were soft, but persistent, as if she was trying to hold it in. He sat up in a start, reaching his hand across the bed and searching for her in the blackness. When his eyes adjusted, he saw her clutching her abdomen, leaning over in clear discomfort.
"Chris," she gasped in certain pain, "Get ready."
Within hours, the midwife had been brought and a new baby had been delivered. Chris waited outside the bedroom with Billy, in discomfort at the sounds of his wife's agony. When the sounds of a crying baby surfaced and the midwife shortly thereafter came out, Billy nearly pounced inside the bedroom. Collecting himself, Chris smoothly walked in to find Mary dressed in her nightgown and holding their daughter in swaddling clothes, Billy leaning over to watch his new sister. Mary was enraptured in the baby's sleepy face, cooing her to sleep. Chris watched the scene before him in stunned silence, not daring to take another step for fear that it would shatter his living dream. After a moment, Mary looked up, a serene and blissful expression on her face. Her loving eyes beckoned him closer.
"Won't you come meet your daughter?"
And in that moment, everything fell into place and Chris wanted nothing more than what lay before him.
Thank you so much to everyone who has read and reviewed - it has meant so much more than I can say. I apologize for the delay in getting this to you - to say life has been an emotional whirlwind in the last 7 months would be a severe understatement. It's left me without much motivation to write, and combined with starting graduate school in 2 months, I don't know when I will feel like writing again. That all is to say I truly appreciate your kind words and feedback - I enjoyed taking this jaunt back to Four Corners with you.