Authors: Elaine Barbieri
Barret followed that trend of thought:
Scully believed Charlie had made a strike and
he had waited ten years to find out, he probably figured the payoff should be his.
Barret was suddenly deadly sober.
Scully had come to that conclusion…he would soon discover he was wrong.
h, I’m sorry, Scully. I should’ve told you sooner that I couldn’t have lunch with you.” Her regret was sincere even if her excuse was deliberately misleading. Lacey continued, “I promised to be at the church after I finish work at eleven. I’ve been wanting to do something positive since I arrived in Weaver, and this is my chance to do it.”
The early morning hum of the restaurant continued on around them as Scully questioned, “Is that smart? Doesn’t Reverend Sykes think that’s asking too much of you.”
“It isn’t Reverend Sykes’s decision.”
“I know your intentions are good, Lacey, but the restaurant is so busy that you go without breakfast most of the time. Now you won’t have time for lunch.”
“I’ll find time to eat. Don’t worry.”
“But I do worry about it.” Seated alone at a corner table, his untouched breakfast in front of him, Scully scrutinized her intently.
Lacey squirmed mentally under his stare.
The semidarkness before dawn…the fire…her grandfather’s gasping words. The fear…
It had all returned the previous night, in nightmares so vividly terrifying that they had left her shuddering. She knew she had awakened overly wan because of the sleeplessness that had followed.
As if reading her mind, Scully said, “You’re pale this morning, Lacey. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” She smiled. “I have to go back to my customers.”
Scully asked abruptly, “Has somebody been giving you trouble here?” “No.”
“Is the work too heavy for you?”
Scully did not appear convinced.
Lacey responded sincerely, “I don’t want you to worry about me. I wasn’t able to attend services regularly while traveling back to Weaver. I sorely miss my connection to the Lord’s word, and this is good for me.”
“I don’t think the Lord would want you working yourself into the ground because of a sense of duty.”
“It’s not duty. It’s pleasure.”
Scully considered her reply, then said, “I’ll come to get you at the boarding house at suppertime.”
Lacey was about to make an excuse, but Scully’s scrutiny was so intense that she was certain he’d see right through her if she tried.
Deciding to put that off for another day, Lacey said, “I’ll be waiting.”
Lacey was about to leave Scully’s table when his touch on her arm stayed her. She swallowed as Scully’s sober gaze met hers and he said, “You’d tell me if something was wrong, wouldn’t you, Lacey?”
“Scully…” Lacey sighed. “Of course, I would.”
Of course, I would.
Lacey had said those words so sincerely. So, why didn’t he believe her?
Scully watched as Lacey moved back and forth between the restaurant tables, smiling at the customers as she snatched up empty plates from some and returned with filled plates for others. She was becoming more adept at her job with every day that passed, and he needed no one to tell him that Sadie was pleased. Neither did he need anyone to tell him that Sadie’s customers—the majority of whom were male—were pleased as well.
Scully picked up his fork, poked at the hotcakes on his plate, then looked back up to watch Lacey’s progress across the room. Todd Fulton was there again. The youthful cowboy couldn’t take his eyes off her. Hiram Watts, Jerry Livingston and Mitch Carter had obviously also taken to coming in as often as their schedules allowed.
Could one of them be the reason Lacey was effectively distancing herself from him?
No, she wanted to make time to work at the church.
“I’ll never be able to do it.” Rosie shook her head. Tears brimming, she glanced up from the slate on the table in front of her. “It’s too confusing.”
“No, it isn’t.”
Lacey slid her hand over Rosie’s. Rosie’s hand was trembling, and Lacey’s heart ached. They were seated in the small anteroom that Reverend Sykes had made available when she had confided in him about Rosie’s lessons the previous day. She had known he wouldn’t refuse her space to conduct Rosie’s lessons, and she had been equally sure he would respect her confidence. True to their agreement, he had allowed them complete privacy, and Rosie had appeared pleased. A half hour into the first lesson, however, the situation had taken a drastic change in course.
“I told you, it’s too late for me.” Rosie wiped away a tear with an angry hand. “What do I need to learn to read and write for, anyway? I’ve done all right so far without it.”
“You’re a good person, Rosie. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for you just managing to survive, being out on your own as young as you were.”
Rosie did not reply.
“But you can do even better, and doing better starts with feeling better about yourself.”
“Marjorie knows how to read and write, and she’s working at the Gold Nugget.”
“That’s Marjorie’s choice. You didn’t have a chance to make a choice.”
“Nothing will probably change, even if I do learn to read. I’m a Gold Nugget girl, and everybody in Weaver knows it. I’ll probably always be a Gold Nugget girl, either here or somewhere else.”
“That could be true, of course, but even if it was, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t profit from reading—even if it’s only in the way you feel about yourself.” When Rosie did not respond, Lacey picked up her Bible. She opened it to a familiar page and smiled. “Do you see these small drawings in the margin, Rosie? My Grandpa drew them to illustrate some of the stories when he was teaching me to read. Some of the drawings are faded and almost illegible, and I don’t remember when he drew some of the others, but they all represent his love to me—a love that was an extension of God’s love. Being able to read these words is a treasure beyond value that my Grandpa shared with me. One of the reasons I came back to Weaver was because I wanted to remember even more—about things that the night my grandfather was killed somehow made me forget. I expect I’ll be able to clear up those memories when I finally get the courage to ride out and face the ruins of the cabin my grandfather and I shared. But since returning to Weaver and learning how others in situations similar to mine have suffered difficult lives, I’ve begun wondering how I could show my appreciation for being blessed with Scully’s care over the years. I’ve found the answer, Rosie. I can show my appreciation by sharing my blessings, just like Grandpa and Scully shared theirs with me.”
Her voice suddenly husky with emotion, Lacey whispered, “I know learning to read and write will be hard at the beginning, but it’ll get easier. I know you can do it.”
“It’s too late, I’m telling you.” Rosie’s pale eyes were red-rimmed. “I don’t know much, but I know I’ve done a lot of things that go against what’s in the Bible. Just like my uncle said, everybody gave up on me—including God.”
“Look…right here, Rosie.” Lacey pointed again to the drawings on the Bible’s page. “Do you see these two birds my Grandpa drew in the margin? He drew them when he read this to me.
“‘Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not, therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.’”
Rosie remained silent as Lacey whispered, “You see? You’ll always have value to the Lord. It’ll never be too late for you to Him.”
Rosie took a breath. “Is that what it says…truly?”
Lacey nodded. “I’ll read more to you from the scriptures—every day if you want me to. But when we’re done with these lessons, you’ll be able to read it all for yourself.”
“It all starts with the alphabet you’re scratching on that slate, and ends up with reading a book.”
Rosie’s lips wobbled as she said, “If you won’t give up, I won’t, either.”
“It’s a deal.” Lacey cleared the thickness from her throat, then took the chalk from Rosie’s hand. “D…for dog, that’s how you write it.” And as Rosie struggled to form the letter, “That’s good, Rosie…really good!”
“She’s at church, boss. The way she went sneaking off, I figured she’d finally be leading us somewhere important, but that’s where she went, all right.”
Barret stared at Blackie and considered his statement. Lacey had sneaked off to church.
Confused and frustrated, Barret returned, “She must’ve seen you following her.”
“No, she didn’t boss.”
“Why else would she waste her time going to church in the middle of the afternoon?”
“Maybe it has something to do with that Rosie from the Gold Nugget. She went into the church a few minutes after Lacey got there.”
“Rosie…” Barret shook his head. If Lacey was enlisting that girl’s help for some reason, she was making a big mistake. Rosie couldn’t even help herself get out from underneath her abusive boyfriend’s thumb. Barret said abruptly, “That doesn’t make sense.”
“Well, she’s been in that church with Rosie for the past hour.”
“Where is she now?”
“Still there, I suppose.”
“Don’t worry, boss. Larry’s watching her. She ain’t going nowhere without one of us trailing behind.”
“Where’s Jake Scully?”
“He’s at the Gold Nugget, I guess. He saw Lacey at breakfast. The two of them looked real cozy, too.”
He had seen Lacey’s expression when she saw Scully and Charlotte together the previous evening. That didn’t sound right, either.
“She’s up to something. Keep your eye on her,” Barret ordered. “She’s not going to get away with anything. I’ve waited too long.”
His agitation increasing, Barret followed Blackie’s progress as his hireling exited his office and started back up toward the church. Blackie was useless when it came to the subtleties of situations, but both Larry and he had learned the value of maintaining his confidence. They were the best he could do right now.
Barret took a breath, then made a decision. He presently had only one recourse.
“I thought I saw you approaching, dear.”
Lacey looked up to see Barret standing in her path as she walked back down the boardwalk from the church.
Lacey attempted to stifle the surge of annoyance his appearance elicited. She had just begun feeling things might take a turn for the better. The midafternoon sun was shining and the heat of the day was bearable. She had stopped off to see Careful on the way back, and the burro’s enthusiastic, braying welcome, as well as his sympathetic silence when she shared her troubles with him as she had done as a child, had soothed her sagging spirits. Most comforting of all, however, her first session with Rosie had gone exceedingly well after its rough start.
Lacey recalled Rosie’s flush at the end of the lesson when she presented Rosie with a pencil and paper tablet with which to practice her newly learned skills. It had occurred to her when she saw Rosie’s reaction that it was probably the first time in her life that someone had even thought to place paper and pencil in Rosie’s hand. The thought had momentarily thickened Lacey’s throat, but she had forced aside her emotion, determined that this instance would not be Rosie’s last.
She had read a chapter of Bible text to Rosie at her request when their lesson was completed. The realization that Rosie had never heard the first chapter of Genesis or any other Bible verse before that day had stunned her. The words had become even more precious to her knowing that Rosie was hearing them for the first time, and she had been hard-pressed to keep the tears from falling. She had been inspired by Rosie’s eagerness to listen and learn, and the resulting glow within had warmed her soul.
Then she had spotted Barret Gould standing in her path.
Irritated by the fact that she had not had the presence of mind to walk on the other side of the street to avoid such an encounter, Lacey did not respond to Barret’s greeting.
His smile paling as Lacey remained silent, Barret continued, “I’ve been thinking about my unfortunate comments during our previous conversation, Lacey. I meant well but spoke in a way that was detrimental to any friendship we might form. It occurred to me in retrospect that I accused Scully of similar behavior—meaning well, but not acting in your best interest. I realize that now, and I want to apologize. I hope you will accept my apology, because it is sincerely meant.”
“I accept your need to apologize….” Her eyes never moving from Barret’s remorseful expression, Lacey heard herself say, “But I strongly resent what you said about Scully. You aren’t his friend, so neither can you be mine.”
“I hope you’re wrong there, Lacey.” A revealing anger flitted across Barret’s expression before he continued in an almost fatherly manner, “I’m older than you, and I’m far more experienced in dealing with life’s dilemmas. I saw in you an inclination to glorify Scully because of the admirable care he provided for you, and I hoped to spare you the disappointment I saw in your future.”
“You needn’t worry. Scully makes no pretense about himself, so he will never disappoint me.”
“Dear…I was hoping to spare you disappointment of a more intimate nature.”
Lacey felt the flush that transfused her skin as she responded, “Meaning?”
“Meaning, I…we…” Barret paused briefly, as if seeking the right words. He continued, “You’re a beautiful young woman. You’ll make a good man an excellent wife someday, and the man who wins your hand will be fortunate, indeed. I’m sure Scully feels the same way. He’d like to see you safely married with children to care for but—”
Losing patience, Lacey interrupted, “Mary is expecting me and she worries if I’m late.”
“But,” Barret continued with an indulgent smile, “Scully’s preference for redheaded women is well-known in Weaver. It will always be his first priority, whether you realize that now or not. And that, my dear, was the main reason for my ill-advised comments that first day.”
Incensed, Lacey barely maintained her calm as she replied, “Scully’s social preferences, if indeed he has any, are not my concern. Neither, Mr. Gould, are they yours.”
“I hoped to spare you some grief, dear.”
“I’m not your ‘dear.’”
“Nor did I wish to make you angry with me again.”