“Soon, I’ll be rid of you.”
It was a phrase often huffed in frustration but had long lost it’s sharp edges. Their time together had turned from days into weeks and the two were finding themselves falling into a rhythm. Every muttered insult and complaint had softened, their tone more earnest and less biting. They worked well together, though neither would admit it. Their arguments became less about conflict and more about filling the air as they found they agreed on most things.
They found themselves falling into habits they didn’t quite understand. Sampson found himself picking blackberries because he knew Wendell liked them. Wendell found himself singing Sampson’s favorite songs while they worked. They found themselves asking questions they would never have asked before; making idle conversation that turned into hours of discussion.
They found themselves smiling more too. It’s because he’s an oaf, thought Wendell. Its because he’s a fool, decided Sampson. They would bicker, but it only seemed to lessen the distance between them at night. They weren’t sure of how else to speak to each other. Sampson was a decent seamster, but Wendell would complain about the holes in his trousers. Wendell was a good cook, but Sampson would whine about bland stew.
Each man began to dread life without the other. No matter how many ‘good riddance’s they exchanged neither hand any desire to be without the other. They would never say it aloud, though. Not for fear of rejection, but for speaking out weakness that the universe might exploit. Black and White were wanted men; life wasn’t kind to them, and they had no reason to believe it would start now. Neither would speak their hearts until they were free of the law, and free to say all that they carried with them.
“I really do hate him.” Wendell told the helpful stranger.
“He really is a nuisance.” Sampson insisted.
The stranger just smiled as he hand them the package he had retrieved for them. “If you say so.”
Days later, they were riding in the back of a wagon, watching Lemoyne fade into the distance. All they’d had, everything they had known, was being left behind for something new. The water that splashed up onto their faces as they crossed the Dakota River into West Elizabeth tasted of freedom. Sampson’s hand slipped into Wendell’s. Neither man said anything, for the gesture said more than either of them ever could. This was something new and they were starting it together.
The house was up in a tree. Wendell was afraid of grizzlies. Sampson was afraid of wolves. Both agreed cougars were also a problem. The small home became theirs, and so their lives truly converged. Sampson’s favorite songs became Wendell’s. Wendell’s small mannerisms became Sampson’s little habits.
They sat on the small balcony of their little home and watched the sunset fall over the valley. It was the most beautiful place either of them had been. Neither could imagine it being so perfect if it weren’t for the man sitting next to him. Their lives had become hunting and fishing and songs by the campfire and soft kisses and shared laughs. They still bickered, because some habits never died, but now they found it easy to apologize. They words they exchanged could be more than concern veiled in disdain. Honesty and openness had blossomed between them. They were happy.
One day, the stranger was at their door once more, broad smile on his face. “Well look who it is.”
“I’ll never be rid of him.” Sampson insisted.
“He’s a pain in my side.” Wendell sighed.