Emily – What Happened Next The Aftermath (by Sherri)

Summary:   A What Happened Next to “Emily” (season 10).
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  7000


Previously:   Joe sees his ex-fiancée Emily Anderson in Virginia City. Expressing mutual feelings of love, Emily fails to share one important detail to Joe and that is that she is married now. Deputy Marshall Wade McPhail is her husband who has been directed by the Marshall to help protect a shipment of money crossing over the Ponderosa. Not telling Joe was merely the beginning of her falsehoods; the others involved Joe after he was shot. What happened next are accusations of robbery and murder all due to lies that Emily shared with her husband and Marshall. The last we see of Emily and her husband is their promises to return to Virginia City to start new a new beginning. This is my twist on what may have happened months after the fiasco.

*****

 Pulling the horses to a stop from his perch upon the buckboard, Joe glanced up towards the mercantile, then with agility surprising to some, he jumped down from the seat, landing on the ground with a soft thump. Brushing off dust from his green jacket, he called out a greeting just as his boots hit the wooden steps. “Morning, Mr. Walker.”

 Pausing a moment from sweeping his front porch, the older man looked up to see Joe Cartwright bounding up the steps towards him. Running a hand through his hair, he quickly greeted the younger man. “Why, good morning, Joe. How are you doing?”

 Wiping sweat off his forehead, Joe replied with a sigh, “Doing good; it’s just so hot and dusty this morning.” He reached into his jacket and pulled a list out of an inner pocket, the pages fluttering in his hand as it handed it to the shopkeeper. “Pa has a list of supplies that I need to pick up while I’m in town. With Hoss and Candy gone with the posse, it’s up to me to take care of all the errands.”

 “I hear they’re still chasin’ that outlaw. What’s it been, a week now them boys of ours been on the trail?”

 “Yes sir. Hoss came home the other night and said that they are getting closer to him. They figure sometime in the next few days they’ll catch up with him.”

 Shaking his head, the shopkeeper spoke again, “Hope they catch that bugger soon. Ain’t fair to the people who put their hard-earned money in the bank to see someone walk away with it who didn’t fairly earn it.” Walking towards the doorway of the store, he leaned the broom against the wall, then studied the list that Joe had given to him. He tapped his chin with his forefinger before taking a step towards the interior of the building, but then stopped and pointed towards a storeroom around the back of the building. “Joe, you can go on out back and grab what you need while I rustle together these other items. The door should be unlocked; I was just out there a few minutes ago.”

 “Thanks, Mr. Walker.” Joe slapped a pat on the older man’s back, then turned and slowly stepped down the steps. It was hard to believe it was this hot early in the morning, this being only spring, and he had a feeling it was going to be a scorcher. He glanced up towards the mid-morning sun, missing the rustling of curtains across the street from him.

*****

 Fingering with the curtain, Emily leaned against the wall and sighed. It had been a week since her husband had left town with the posse, trying to catch up with the thief who had robbed the Virginia City bank. It had been a long week, although she had to admit that for the first few days she had enjoyed the quiet that surrounded her. But after a week with no man in the house, the silence seemed to suffocate her. She stood near the kitchen pump as a breeze filtered in through the window, blowing the curtain away from the wooden frame. As she leaned forward to catch the breeze, she looked out the window, allowing her eyes to roam the street in front of her. Gasping, her hand fluttered to the base of her neck as she stared at the sight across from her. It was Joe Cartwright. Gently pushing aside the curtain, she nibbled on her thumbnail as she watched him shed his green jacket, tossing it carelessly on the back of the buckboard. Emily continued to watch as he moved away from the buckboard, even when he disappeared around the edge of the store, reappearing with a heavy sack of grain tossed over his shoulder. She couldn’t help but stare at the way his muscles bulged beneath the shirt, wondering how they might feel to run her hands over them.

Another breeze blew in through the window, this time lightly slipping through her hair as memories slipped through of the soft kiss they had shared when she arrived in Virginia City. Playing with a loose tendril of hair, she thought back of that brief forbidden kiss Joe had given her on their way out of town, that is before Wade threw Joe out of the buggy and onto the ground. Blast Wade! If he hadn’t shown up when he did, then she and Joe would have been able to drive out of town and perhaps they would have found a moonlit rock to sit against. Joe wouldn’t have known that she was married. He didn’t have to know, she thought. A love like theirs transcended across time.

Suddenly she knew what she had to do; she took a quick glance around the kitchen, spotting her reticule lying on the table. Grabbing it, she hurried to the front door then pulled it open and stood on the front stoop, waiting for Joe to turn and look her way. Disappointed when he didn’t even glance her way, she closed the door behind her while keeping her eyes focused on Joe’s figure. He had just disappeared around the side of the building to retrieve more supplies from the back of the store. She pulled the door behind her, hearing the click of her door as it shut. Then she stood next to it until she saw him returning, this time carrying a large crate in his hands. Taking a deep breath, she exhaled slowly, noticing how good he was looking. The desire to be near him was so strong that she had to fight the urge to literally run over to him. Taking a step off the boardwalk, she carefully dodged the wagons and horses in the street before quietly walking up behind where the man was working and cleared her throat. “Afternoon, Joe.”

 Startled by the voice, Joe dropped what he held in his hand into the back of the wagon. Vaguely he heard the clunk of the crate slamming into the wagon floor as he swung around to see Emily standing before him. Her hair was down, looped carefully around the nape of her neck, and despite the dreamy look, she was looking well. Even so, he was put off-guard with her standing so close to him and he couldn’t help but take a step backwards. “Uh, Emily. Hi, how are you doing?”

“Oh, I’m doing well, Joe.”

 Suddenly insecure, Joe couldn’t help but look away while thoughts went swirling through his head. Had it been just six months ago when he had seen Emily the first time? He had been shocked yet excited to find his lost love here in Virginia City, but then he discovered she was married. Strangely enough, it wasn’t Emily who told him but her husband Wade. Trouble began not long afterwards when she rode out to the Ponderosa looking for him. Helping keep a shipment of money riding across their land safe, it came as a total surprise to hear her calling out to him on their land, but even more surprising to hear what she had to offer. She wanted him to run away with her, anywhere, just as long as it was away from here and he went with her. Obviously Emily didn’t know him that well, otherwise she would have known that he would never step in and take a woman away from her husband, despite mutual expressions of love. Disgusted by what she was suggesting, he told her to go back home to her husband, then rode off in the opposite direction.

It was just moments after riding away when he heard shots in the distance, thus pushing the recent incident far from his mind. Riding off towards the sound of the gunshots, he came upon the shipment wagon to see two bodies lying next to it. Uncertain with what had happened, he found that one of the men was alive. Shooting three shots into the air, it was the last thing he remembered before a blinding pain seared through his body. It wasn’t until days later that he found that he was under suspicion for trying to steal the money. That was ludicrous! When he was feeling better, the doctor drove him out to the scene of the crime along with his pa and brother, meeting up with the Marshall. There they recreated what happened, taking along boots to compare around the soil. They had just solved the mystery when Wade and Emily rode up. At some point in time while Joe had lain in bed with the gunshot, Emily had sworn before the Marshall that Joe had wanted her to run away with him. But now she rode up with her husband to confess that everything that she had sworn to the Marshall was a lie — basically, that Joe had not wanted her to run off with her; rather, it was her wanting him to runaway with her. That was the last time he saw her, and honestly at the time, he thought that with everything that had transpired during this time that Wade and Emily would leave Virginia City. That didn’t happen. Instead Joe recovered and spent most of his time successfully avoiding contact with Emily until now. Sighing, he could still feel the ache of where the bullet entered. Now with Emily standing before him, he didn’t know what to do. Pushing aside the lingering thoughts, he turned to face her, desperately hoping that she would leave him alone. “It’s been nice seeing you again, Emily, but I really need to get the rest of these supplies loaded. With Hoss and Candy gone, there’s more work to be done.”

 Emily wasn’t sure what she expected, but certainly not this abrupt brush off. Reaching out, she touched his arm, thinking she could feel a tremor run beneath her hand. “Wade has left me alone this week Joe.”

Startled, Joe looked down at her with surprise. Was she serious? Surely not, Joe thought as he took another step away. The desire to run became stronger, and without further thought, he quickly reached behind her and readjusted the crate he had dropped earlier into the wagon then withdrew his hand. Moving away from the wagon, he was intent on going into the store when he saw rather than felt her reach out and grab hold of his arm.

 “Joe, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry for what happened with the accusations with the robbery and all,” she said with a catch in her voice. “I hope I can make up for it.”

 Shrugging his shoulders, Joe couldn’t think of anything to say. Any feelings he might have had for this woman were gone. He felt nothing. Even the love he thought he had felt had diminished until it died away. Shaking his head, he spoke quickly. “It’s over, Emily. That is in the past, so let’s just forget about it.” With that said, he brushed past her and quickly strode towards the front of the mercantile, his boots clunking against the wooden steps as he disappeared inside the building.

Emily could still smell Joe’s scent permeate the air around her, and if she closed her eyes, she could still feel the touch of Joe as he walked past her. Even though the touch was slight, Emily couldn’t help but sigh; she knew it was his way of saying he still cared for her. The energy between them was strong and she could sense it with the way he spoke to her; the love between them was mutual and could not be broken. Shaking off the rebuff, she very well understood his abruptness, being as they were in a public place where people could talk. He wanted her just as much as she wanted him. Taking a deep breath, she let a smile steal across her face as she lifted her chin a notch and walked into the mercantile. Hearing Joe’s voice in the back of the store, Emily casually walked through the store fingering, the merchandise before moving over towards the bolts of material. Hidden in the shadows of the store, she reached down to lift a bolt of material onto the table as the men from the storeroom emerged.

 “Thanks, Mr. Walker. We’ll send someone into town later this week to pick up the rest of the supplies.”

 Patting Joe on the shoulder, Mr. Walker nodded his head as he answered. “When the rest of your supplies arrive, I’ll just stack them in the back room until someone comes to retrieve them.” Scratching his head a moment, he had a thought. “Or if you like, I can send a note out to the ranch when I get the supplies in.”

 “You don’t need to do that. I’ll just send one of the men into town to check later this week. Have a good afternoon.” Giving a wave, Joe quickly left the store.

 Hearing the footsteps pass by her, Emily peeked around the bolt of fabric just in time to see Joe step out the door. Moving over to the doorway, hidden in the shadows, she smiled to herself as a plan formulated in her head.

*****

 “Pa I tell you, I did nothing to encourage her speaking to me!”

Trying to calm his son down, Ben waved his hands for him to lower his voice. “I’m sure you didn’t, but you still need to be careful. Wade is out of town and I imagine she has a lot of time on her hands.” Picking up a plate of eggs, he offered the plate to Joe, who shook his head.

“I know, Pa,” Joe answered. Resting his hand on his forehead, he apologized. “I’m sorry; I don’t know why I blew up at you. I just kept thinking about this over and over again all day yesterday, and then last night I could hardly sleep. Just tossed and turned all night. It’s just that things were going so well and then suddenly I have to worry about Emily around me while her husband is gone.” Suddenly a thought crossed his mind as he swung his head around to look at Ben. “You don’t think she’ll try and come out to the Ponderosa?”

 Shaking his head, Ben replied, “I don’t think so. I wouldn’t worry about it, Joe. If she comes out this way, I’ll just have the hands keep a look out for her and send her back into town.” Swallowing a mouthful of food, he continued, “In fact, why don’t you just stay around the Ponderosa until Wade gets back.”

 “I hope you’re right, Pa; I really do.” Picking up his cup of coffee, Joe was bringing it to his lips when a knock on the door caught their attention. Watching as Ben pushed away from the table, Joe shook his head and then with a sweeping motion of his hand commented, “I’ll get it, Pa. Sit there and enjoy your breakfast. I’m not hungry anyway.” Wiping his hands on his trousers, Joe moved away from the table just as another rapid series of knocks cascaded across the door. Swinging the door open, he was surprised to see a young boy standing there.

Quickly the boy spoke. “Mr. Cartwright, I got you a note here from the store.” Bouncing from one foot to the other, he waited impatiently for some sort of direction. Watching as Joe dug into his pocket, his eyes lit up as the shiny metal dropped into his outstretched hand. “Thanks Mr. Cartwright!”

Nodding blankly, Joe shut the door behind him as he ripped open the message. Walking over to his seat, he spoke aloud. “Pa, it looks like Mr. Walker has the supplies in.”

Not even looking up from his plate, Ben suggested, “Why don’t you see if Hank can go into town and them pick them up then.” Not hearing a reply, Ben looked up from his food to see Joe staring at the note with a puzzled expression on his face. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing really,” Joe answered. “Mr. Walker requested that I come in personally to get the supplies.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. Pa, but he must have had a good reason.” Folding the letter, he stuffed it in the inner pocket of his jacket then reached over to take another swallow of coffee. Taking a deep breath, he spoke. “If I leave now and get the supplies, I’ll be able to ride out later and help with the branding.” Setting the cup back onto the table, he moved over towards the door where he grabbed his hat and gun belt. “See you later, Pa.”

 Less than an hour later, Joe was on the road to Virginia City, thinking of all the things he needed to get done today, and going into town was not one of them. In fact, he was hoping to spend less time in town and more at the ranch, primarily to stay away from Emily. Thinking of ranch duties yet to be done, he was finally able to work his thoughts to a point where Emily did not enter them. Halfway into town, Joe looked up from his musings to watch the road ahead of him. Puzzled at an obstruction in the middle of the road, he couldn’t help but stare. It looked like an overturned buggy. Joe urged the horses pulling the buckboard forward, stopping and quickly dismounting at the buggy.

With the undercarriage of the buggy facing him, Joe couldn’t see if there was anyone trapped. Ducking around one of the spinning wheels, he turned the corner and nearly tripped over a large rock in the middle of the road. Puzzled, he wondered how it got in the middle of the road when he heard a noise. Looking around the area, he saw a woman lying motionless on the ground. Her face was lying down in the dirt while her arms were thrown out in front of her. Dropping to his knees, he carefully rolled the body over and couldn’t help but gasp out when he recognized the woman to be Emily. What was she doing here? Reaching out, he laid his fingers against her neck to feel her pulse. Feeling a strong steady heartbeat, he couldn’t help but lean back on his boot heels and let out a sigh. The only movement that came from her was the wind catching hold of her skirt as it billowed around her ankles. Raising her head, Joe positioned himself so that he could lift her into his arms without too much effort. Carrying her over to a grassy area, he laid her down gently, then leaned over and began brushing some of the embedded dirt from her face. Moving aside some of the loose blonde hair that swung down into her face, he spoke. “Emily. Emily can you hear me?”

Groaning, Emily’s eyes fluttered open. “Joe.” You came, she thought to herself. Watching the change on Joe’s face, she almost feared she spoke aloud until she saw that he was looking at the buggy. It looks worse than it really is, Joe, Emily thought. She had rigged the scene herself after thinking about how to do it all night. She was almost afraid that Joe would send a ranch hand into town, but Emily decided to take the chance anyway. The hardest part was pushing over the buggy by herself, but by leading the horse in one direction and placing a large rock under the wheel, she had managed to tip the buggy so that it came crashing down to the ground. It was her idea to pin her dress under the wheel, but that idea didn’t go as well as planned. All she was able to do was wedge a small piece under the wheel before she saw the buckboard quickly approaching in the distance. Then she quickly dropped down on the ground, stretching her body out, then repositioned her arms several times trying to decide the best possible position to lie in. Panting slightly, she had her breathing under control by the time that Joe approached her. With his presence so close to her, she let out another moan, hoping to feel his strong hands touch her once again. She wasn’t disappointed.

“Emily, can you move?” Joe asked as he carefully touched her arm.

 Moving her arms, she felt herself melting as his hand came into contact with body. Kicking her legs slightly, she allowed her eyes to flutter open only to see him hovering over her. This was the right thing to do! I’ll let him take me home, and with Wade gone, we can have this afternoon for just the two of us! “I… I… think I’m okay, Joe. If you can help me to my feet…” Joe’s hand cupped her beneath her elbow as he helped her to stand. Staggering to her feet, Emily reached out and clutched onto Joe’s arm to maintain her balance, wanting Joe as close to her as possible. She got the reaction she was hoping for when she felt his arms reach down beneath her legs and around her back. Lifting her up into his arms, she rested her head on his shoulder then looked up into his green eyes and sighed. “Thank you, Joe. I don’t know how long I would have lain there if you hadn’t come along. I tried and tried to move, but my dress wouldn’t budge.”

Saying nothing Joe carried her over to the back of the buckboard. Setting her on the edge of bed, he suggested, “Why don’t you lie down until we get into town?”

Slowly moving her hand from Joe’s arm, Emily scooted to the back of the buckboard keeping her eyes on the man standing before her. Watching as he moved back to the buggy, she smiled when she remembered the feeling to be again in Joe’s arms. He smelled so good, and as she laid her head against his chest, she could hear the excited patter of his heart beating within his chest. Leaning her head against the back of the seat she waited until he returned with her horse, tying it securely to the back of the buckboard.

 “Do you want me to take you to the doctor?” Joe asked as he leaned over the side of the buckboard.

 “Oh no, Joe, just take me home please.”

 Nodding, Joe moved away from her. Climbing onto the front wagon wheel, he then jumped up to the seat. Gathering the reins in his hand, with a click from his mouth, he set the horses in forward in motion, going slower now that he had a passenger in the back.

On the way into town, Joe couldn’t help but wonder about what happened out there. What was she doing on that road? And what was this about her not being able to move because her dress was stuck. When he pulled her from the ground, he was surprised to realize that the dress wasn’t wedged under the buggy wheel to prevent movement. In fact, the dress pulled free without any trouble. With these questions, Joe guided the horses into town, then directed the horses down the street before pulling up outside of Emily’s home. Leaping from the seat, dust flew as he landed on the ground. Walking to the back of the wagon, he could sense Emily’s eyes on him. Every step he took, he could feel her eyes following him. Glancing over at her, he sighed. What he thought was true; she was staring at him and it was making him nervous. “Uh, we’re here. How are you feeling?”

“A little faint,” Emily replied, laying the back of her hand against her forehead. Scooting towards the edge of the wagon, she slowly let her feet down onto the ground, grasping hold of Joe as she did so. Feeling numbness creep into her legs she, whimpered, “I don’t feel too good, Joe.”

 Concerned when he saw Emily sag towards the ground, he caught her then lifted her once again into his arms. Feeling her hand lightly caressing his arm, he began to experience discomfort when her other hand strayed to his back, then rested on his gun belt. Pushing the door open with his foot, Joe quickly glanced around the room and located the sofa. With several quick steps, he went over to it and laid her gently down onto the sofa. Reaching behind him, he grabbed a pillow from another chair and was helping adjust the pillows behind her head when he felt her arms suddenly grab him by the neck, forcing him down to her level. Stumbling to his knees, he was so startled that he didn’t react fast enough when she locked her fingers around his neck, bringing his face next to hers. She then proceeded to give Joe a long, deep passionate kiss. Off-balance already from Emily’s clutch around his neck, Joe attempted to pull away when a noise behind him startled the woman. Feeling Emily release the pressure on his neck, he was free to pull away and was just getting to his feet when a blow from nowhere struck his head, sending him flying across the room. Landing against a sharp edge of the table, he had no time to feel the pain before another blow landed in his midsection. Stunned, Joe fell against the wall, trying to catch his breath when he recognized the figure heaving in front of him. Wade.

 Pointing his finger at Joe, Wade threatened, “You get away from my wife or I will kill you!”

 “Wade!” Joe replied, still breathing heavily from the assault the man had launched against him. “It’s not what you think.” Warily, Joe saw Emily from the corner of his eyes as she stood.

 “That’s what you would like me to think, isn’t it?”

 Shaking his head, Joe couldn’t help but groan at what it must have looked like to Wade when he walked into the doorway of his home to see his wife kissing him. “Your wife had an accident with the buggy. I saw her lying in the road and brought her home.”

“That’s a likely story,” snarled Wade, pointing to Emily. “I see my wife is still has feelings for you and you have done nothing but encourage it.”

 “Today was the first time I’ve seen her.”

 “Oh Joe, you don’t have to pretend anymore,” pleaded Emily.

 Startled, Joe whipped his head around to face her. “What do you mean pretend?”

 Walking over to Joe, Emily laid her head against his shoulder, “It’s ok, Joe; we can let him know. I think he’ll let me go.”

“Let you go? I don’t want you to go anywhere,” Joe yelled, pushing her away from him.

 “Emily?” questioned Wade.

 Rubbing her shoulder, she was shocked from Joe’s rough treatment of her. Suddenly her story changed. With tears welling up in her eyes, she cried out, “Oh Wade, he said he loved me. He brought me inside but then he forced me onto the sofa, and he…he…” Sobbing Emily couldn’t finish her statement, leaving the sentence hanging loose in the air.

 Fury raged within Wade as he stared at his wife then at Joe. Standing there, his fists clenched in anger, Wade glanced across the room to see his wife slumped against the sofa, her face buried in her hands. The sobs echoing across the still room increased the anger within Wade. Having been gone for nearly a week on the trail, he had been eager to return home to Emily, but instead found her in the arms of another man. And not just any man — it was Joe Cartwright. He suddenly let the built-up emotions loose as he roared out his anger and lunged towards Joe, ramming into the younger man. Both their bodies crashed against the wall, leaving Joe to watch helplessly as his gun flew out of its holster onto the floor. Receiving several blows from the lawman, Joe finally found enough strength to shove Wade away from him. Throwing a punch to Wade’s face and then to his stomach, Joe could hear the cry from the other man as his fist connected with his body.

Blocking another blow from Joe, Wade grabbed him behind his neck and began to squeeze, causing Joe to gasp out for air. Straightening his arms, Joe slipped out of the neck hold and dropped to the ground then rolled over, wrapping his legs against Wade’s, watching as the other man plunged to the floor. Hot, tired and sweaty, Joe pulled himself up from the ground, feeling the pain from Wade’s punch shimmy through his body. Out of breath, Joe shook his head, “I don’t want to fight you over Emily, Wade. I don’t love her. I never…”

The words had just left his mouth when a mournful cry sounded from the other side of the room.

Stunned by the sound, both men whipped their heads around to see Emily jump from the floor and stand in front of them with a gun in her hand. Patting for his gun, Joe felt his heart stop when he realized it was gone. Realization as to where it was suddenly became clear when he saw the pearl handle of his gun in her hand. Swallowing hard, he forced himself to breathe as he watched Emily raise the gun, leveling it directly at his chest.

 Putting his hand up in the air, Joe tried to talk to her, “Emily, you don’t want to do this. Drop the gun, and we can talk about this.” Taking a cautious step towards her, he stopped when he saw her next action.

“I don’t want to talk about it Joe, I love you! I love you.” With the last words whispering from her lips, she cocked the gun and spoke again, this time lowering her voice. “If I can’t have you, Joe, then I will make sure no one else can either.”

 Fear coursed through his body as Joe watched the woman as she pulled the trigger. He jumped to his right as he saw the flash of light explode from the barrel of his pistol. Landing on the floor, he heard the gunshot as it echoed in the room. Breathing heavily from his fall to the ground, he could belatedly feel a flash of pain as the bullet entered his shoulder. Then he began to fight the darkness that threatened to encompass him as he entered into a dimension of confusion.

Grasping his shoulder, he could vaguely hear the sound of another gunshot then the sound of a body falling to the floor. Attempting to get up, he saw Emily. Her lifeless body was sprawled out on the floor in front of Wade, who was still holding the gun his hand. Wade stared down at Emily and then looked over to see Joe watching at him. Cocking the gun, he walked over to where Joe struggled to get up from the floor and pointed it at Joe’s head.

 Panic went through Joe as he clutched his shoulder. Staring into the dark barrel of the gun, Joe could feel the warm sticky blood seeping through his fingertips as he stuttered, “Wade, I… I….” Before he could complete his sentence, the darkness that had been threatening him finally took over, dropping Joe into the sea of blackness.

Staring down at the motionless body of Joe, Wade could see the trails of blood as it traced its way down onto the floor. Intense anger flowed through his body as he looked at Joe, his finger hovering over the trigger. Suddenly, he clicked the gun out of the cocked position, then dropped it onto the floor, watching listlessly as it landed with a clatter. Stumbling across the room, he went over to where his wife lay within her pool of blood, her life long gone from the bullet that pierced her heart. Sinking to his knees, he buried his face into Emily’s hair as the tears dripped down his face into her blonde silky hair. It was this scene that Sheriff Coffee and his deputy walked in on.

*****

 “Morning, Joe”

 Moving on his bed, Joe couldn’t help but grimace as he pulled his body up into a sitting position, attempting to lean up against his pillow. “Morning, Pa.”

 Concern for the well being of his son, Ben reached over and felt Joe’s forehead, then nodded, pleased to feel no fever. “How’s your shoulder doing?”

 Glancing over at the white bandages that encased his left shoulder, Joe partially shrugged. “It hurts still, but it’s okay if I don’t move around too much.” Noticing a strange look on his face, Joe couldn’t help but question. “What’s wrong, Pa?”

“What? Oh.” Caught in his musings, Ben glanced down at his son and grinned. “Actually nothing is wrong. Hop Sing was cleaning your jacket, seeing if it was salvageable and he came across the note from the store.”

“Oh yeah, the one from Mr. Walker.” Grimacing slightly, he moved trying to find a comfortable position. “Have you seen him? Did you find out why he wanted me to come into town?”

Pursing his lips, Ben shook his head as he replied, “I went into town this morning to see him about that, but Mr. Walker didn’t send the note and had no idea what I was talking about when I questioned him about it. When I showed him the note, he said it wasn’t his handwriting.”

“WHAT?” Shocked, Joe sat up quickly, trying to ignore the pain that shot through his body. “It wasn’t his handwriting? Then who sent it?”

“I don’t know, but the strange part was Wade. He was in the store at the time and we haven’t really spoken to one another since Emily’s death. He avoids me when I go into town, and for some reason, he seems stuck in the belief that if you hadn’t been there that none of this would have happened.”

 “Pa, I didn’t want to be there! She was the one kissing me!”

 “Calm down son, I know that; I’m just telling you what others tell me,” Ben explained. “About the note now. Mr. Walker said it wasn’t his. Wade was at the counter and was about to walk away when he stopped and asked to look at the note. Taking it from Mr. Walker, Wade just stood there and stared at the note. When he looked up, I couldn’t quite describe the look, but it was almost like shock. Shoving the note back to me, he left his purchases behind and went out of the store in a hurry.”

 “Wha…” exclaimed Joe, “Why did he leave?”

 Shaking his head, Ben answered. ”I don’t know, but I started to get an idea. Anyway, when I went out to look for him, he was gone.” Moving over to the chair next to Joe’s bed, he stretched his back before continuing. “Later I took care of some paperwork at the bank and then I went by to talk with Sheriff Coffee. Wade came into the office. He had a saddlebag tossed over his shoulder, and as he charges into the room, he stops suddenly when he realizes that I’m in the room. Shrugging his shoulders, he walks on towards where Roy was sitting and tells him that he made a mistake…” Hearing voices outside of Joe’s room, Ben stopped talking.

Not wanting Ben to stop, Joe was about to protest when he saw Hoss walk into the room, followed closely by Wade.

 “Thanks, Hoss,” Wade said as he clutched his hat in his hand. Twisting it round and round in his grasp, he looked towards Ben and then Joe before speaking. “Hi, Ben, uh… hi, Joe.”

 Nodding towards him, Joe had no smile on his face as replied, “Wade.”

 “Uh Joe, I need to umm…”

 Wondering what in the world Wade needed, Joe grimaced once more as he turned on his bed. The way he was sitting on his bed was sending pulsing layers of pain from his shoulder down to his hip. Watching Wade, Joe could tell something was bothering him, considering the way he kept starting to speak and then would stop.

“Joe, I need to apologize to you. My wife…” Pausing a moment, Wade looked down to the floor before looking back up at Joe. Speaking quickly, he tried to get the information out in one breath, “My wife deceived both you and me. Emily sent you that note telling you to come into town, the note that was supposedly sent by Mr. Walker. I recognized her handwriting.”

 Shocked, Joe quickly leaned forward, “It was her?” Slapping the edge of the bed, he shook his head. “That explains the note. I was wondering why Mr. Walker had requested that I go into town. I knew that was strange, but figured he had a good reason.”

 “Anyway, Joe, I’m really sorry for everything my wife put you through. Her pa had warned me that I needed to keep a close eye on her, and then I thought that with all that happened less than a year ago would have taught her a lesson. Thought her lies were over with.” Shrugging his shoulders, the man still looked as though he was carrying a heavy load upon them.

 Unsure of what to say, Joe fingered the hem on the covers. So many thoughts went through his head but none of them were really making much sense. Feeling a touch on his arm, he looked up to see his pa looking down at him concerned.

 “Joe, you okay?”

 “Yeah, Pa.” Shaking his head, he turned to look back up to Wade. “I didn’t love Emily. That love died months ago when I discovered she was married. That day you saw us, I brought her home on her request and her kissing me came as a total surprise. I’m sorry for even putting myself in such a situation.”

 Not knowing what else to say, Wade nodded his head. “Well, I just wanted you to know that I’m leaving town now. Going to see if I can find work outside of Nevada. I know I should have left months ago, but this was my dream job. I was stubborn and this is what my stubbornness led to.”

 “Wade,” said Joe gently, “you know if it hadn’t been me, it may have been someone else.”

Dropping his head, Wade had a strange expression on his face. “There were others but I always believed my wife.” Almost with a strangled voice, he apologized, “I’m sorry Joe for everything.” With that said, he shoved his crinkled hat back onto his head, then turned and walked out the room with Hoss quietly following him.

Silently both Joe and Ben stared at the empty doorway, thoughts whirling around inside their heads. The shock of everything that had happened within the last week took a toll on Joe, but he had yet to express any of it. Feeling Ben reach over and spread his fatherly concern towards him, Joe had trouble fighting the tears that threatened to spill out. “Pa, I never meant to hurt anyone. Gosh, Emily died because of me!”

Moving from his chair, Ben positioned himself on the bed, before reaching over to grab Joe’s hand. “Joe, you did nothing wrong.” Motioning towards the bandages that encased his shoulder, he asked, “How did you get shot?”

 “Emily,” whispered Joe as he looked down.

“That’s right — Emily. And from what Wade told us at the sheriff’s office, Emily was intent on killing you.” Feeling a tear drip silently down his own cheek, Ben didn’t bother wiping it away as he continued to speak, “If you hadn’t tried to dodge the bullet, it would have pierced your heart. Killing you.” Feeling the shudders course through his son’s body as he spoke, Ben continued, “Good grief, Joe, if you hadn’t moved, you’d be dead! I’m sure she would have tried again; in fact, if Wade had to shoot her, she probably did try! If you want to blame someone, make sure you blame the right person. And that person is not you.”

 Thinking back on that fateful day, Joe continued to try to fight the emotions that had built up with no outlet. Trying to keep his voice steady was useless as the relief from guilt washed over him as he replied to Ben. “Thanks, Pa.” Those two words opened up the floodgates into Joe’s soul. Within minutes, the emotions and tears from all the events in the last six months were released as the older man clutched the younger one in his arms, providing comfort and strength within his bond.

***The End***

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