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Ashley was awakened by the alarm, she turned it off and looked at the clock, 2:30 AM. In the middle of the night, she threw the covers off and got out of bed, pulled her small suitcase out from under the bed and opened the door.

She peered into the darkness and when her eyes were accustomed to it and she saw that it was safe she crept softly to the stairs. Tree for tree she slowly walked down each foot gingerly putting down. When she came downstairs she stood still for a moment in order to convince herself that everyone was still sleeping. She sighed and stretched her hand toward the door.

"Ma'am Ashley?"

Ashley almost jumped out of her skin and turned with a whirl.

"Alfred, you startled me." she said.

"Leaving without saying goodbye?" he said, sounding almost hurt.

"Oh Afred," she said suddenly, and she looked at him, "I'm really sorry but I have no other choice."

"I know Ma'am."

Ashley looked at him surprised.

"Remember that I have known you your whole life, sometimes I think I know you better than your father and mother ma'am."

Ashley smiled. "That would not surprise me."

"I'm sorry that they force you to do this, I will miss you."

"I'll miss you too," Ashley said and in a second she had closed the distance between them and gave him a hug, "you won't say anything?" she asked softly.

"What can I say? I don't even know where your going, Ma'am."

"That's true, I don't even know where I'm going." she sighed.

"Wherever it is, please be careful Ma'am."

"I promise." said Ashley.

She looked at him and walked out the door. She had a pretty nice life, loving parents, great family, many friends. She bit her lip and pondered. Actually she did quite love her life. That was untill her parents made a dicision for her wich she absolutely didn't agree with and despite the fact that she was old enough to make her own decisions they would not listen to her.

Yesterday she went to see Jessica, a friend who works at the bank. She had asked Jessica if she would put all the money she had in her account in a bag that she would pick up later. She had asked Jessica not to tell anyone, well, except her boss who had to give permission to empty her account, but she knew hem, he was a friend, so that was no problem.

At the end of the afternoon, however, Jessica and her boss tried to persuade her to stay, that they would find something to stop it, but she sighed and said she had no other choice. After one last hug she said goodbye to the best friend she ever had.

She walked down the path and closed the gate softly behind her, after a last glance she walked away, she was almost at the corner of the street when she heard someone calling her name. She turned and saw her standing there.

"Jessica!" she hissed and walked towards her, "what are you doing here? It's in the middle of the night!"

"You don't really think I'll just let you go alone?" she said.

"What? No, you can not ..."

"Yes I can and I will," Jessica held up a bag, "it's not much but it's better than nothing." she said.

"Jess ... I can not ask this of you."

"You are not asking, you never need to ask Ashley."Jessica laughed and she laughed along with her friend.

"Thank you." she said.

Ben looked through the window of the bar and saw Dan sitting at the bar with a glass of whiskey, he pushed it around and took another sip.

"Where is he?" he heard someone say.

"At the bar," Ben pointed at him and then looked at Lisa, "start a conversation with him, make him smile and if it is possible, make sure he has some fun." he said and winked at her.

"Okay."

Ben watched as Lisa then entered the bar and introduced herself to him, she smiled and Lisa sat down beside him. Since Dan and Alice had parted ways with Mark and William to go south he had been alone. That was about over a year ago. The only thing he did was work on the farm, looking after the livestock, the chores that needed to be done. Ben came along occasionally to help him but somehow he was still accustomed to wander around with his horse so after a few months he began to get restless and he settled up his horse and left. Dan had told him that he and Alice had not been intimate since Mark had gotten ill. It was not the first time that Ben had sent a woman to entertain Dan and he knew that Dan hated it but he had to do something. It had been years since he had been with a woman, it was for his own good. After an hour he saw Lisa saying goodbye and they parted ways. Lisa came back outside.

"I did my best." she said and walked away.

Ben sighed and looked after her.

"How long are you going to keep doing this?" He heard Dan say besides him.

"That depends on you." replied Ben.

Dan looked at him.

"What the hell do you mean with that?" he asked.

"Life is more than sleeping and working, you sometimes need a little distraction, too."

"So you send every woman my way to see and hope she can seduce me?"

He walked away but Ben grabbed his arm and pulled him towards him, the rancher wobbled and almost fell over because of his wooden leg.

"I care about you Dan, you're my friend, I do not want to see wasting away on that farm, you're also just a man, a man with needs. I am only trying to help."

Dan went scarled at the last words Ben said.

"I do not need your help to find a wife, Wade." Dan said, and he tore himself loose with so much force that he nearly fell over again.

"No you're doing just fine by yourself." Ben said sarcaticly.

Dan looked like he wanted to say something but instead he walked to his horse, mounted and rode away.

Ben hated it when Dan called him Wade and he knew it. He watched as Dan disappeared into the distance and then mounted his horse. He took a detour to the farm and after one hour when he saw the farm the distance he saw that Dan sat on the porch looking out over the landscape. He put the horse in the stall next to Dan's and took the saddle off. He brushed it and gave it water and food. Ben walked to the porch and sat down next to Dan.

"I'm sorry, okay." he said suddenly.

Dan looked at him in surprise.

"What?" he asked.

"You heard me."

"Yes, I did, I just want to know if I heard it right."

"I am not going to say it again."

Dan laughed and looked over the landscape again.

"Okay okay, just stop sending women to me, I'm not looking for a someone, Ben."

"Dan .."

"No Ben, I mean it, the farm and the cattle are more important."

"The farm is doing fine and the cattle is too."

"And to keep it that way, they have to have my undivided attention."

"Okay whatever you want. I'm going to bed." Ben said and walked inside the house.