It was a one room house after all. To the immediate right, John saw a small table and two chairs, and separating the table from where Lois now stood, her hands inside a basin filled with water, he saw a stone hearth and a lit fire, the flames licking at the bottom of a coffee pot placed on the grill. To his left, he saw a rocker, some yarn, and a couple of knitting needles. He looked at the shawl around her shoulders and wondered if she’d made it. At the back of the house, in the far corner, there was a small mattress, and John found that he couldn’t pull his gaze away from it--from the two pillows at the head of the bed.
“Well,” Lois said, and John turned toward her. She wiped both hands on a rag and one eyebrow lifted as she stared back at him. “You going to sit down or stand there all day?”
At the tone of her voice, John felt a prickle of heat along the side of his neck.
She held an open hand toward the table. “Please.”
He nodded and then pulled out a chair. As he sat down, he looked through the window and saw the hill where he’d been just a short while ago and wondered if she’d seen him up there, seated on his horse for what must have been at least twenty minutes, if not more, trying to decide what he should do. He blinked the thought away and asked, “So, where’s your church?”
She sat down, only a few feet away now. The soft aroma of something like lilies touched his nose.
She looked at him with confused eyes. “Our church?”
“I’d heard you were married to a minister,” he said. “When I arrived, I found your house, a barn, but no church.”
She leaned forward and placed both elbows on the table.
“We haven’t actually built one yet. Henry came out to start up a church, seeing as how the town didn’t have one yet.” John noted that she used a name instead of referring to him as only her husband. “For now, we meet here in the house. I cook a pot of coffee, some biscuits, and he cooks up a sermon.”
She laughed at that, and John found himself smiling. He remembered that laugh, the way it always made him feel at ease, like he’d come to a place he had never been before and instantly found it to be like home.
Lois continued. “He says that in a year, two at the most, we’ll build one.” She pointed. “Right out there.”
He gazed through the window.
“In some ways, he’s like you,” she said. “Always the listener, always with a smile on his face. He likes to hunt, too--deer and buffalo.” She paused. “You still hunt?”
John shook his head. “Not as much as I used to.”
“Huh. You used to hunt all the time.”
He nodded, but then furrowed his brow as he remembered something Everett had mentioned. He said, “Wait, Henry?” and when Lois cocked her head to the side, he added, “I’d heard your husband’s name was John.”
“His name is John Henry, his parents adding the Henry to avoid confusion since his father had the same first name. Now, he prefers to go by Henry. Says the double name sounds like something you’d call a child and he doesn’t want the church people thinking of him that way.”
“Well, I’m happy you found a Godly man." He forced a smile. "In a way, I was glad to hear about it.”
She leaned back, cross her arms, and said, “It appears you been listening to some people, too. At least about me.”
He shrugged. “That’s all I heard, really. Everett Wilcox told me.”
Lois glanced at the floor. “Everett. The last I saw of him, he said you two weren’t exactly on speaking terms.”
He wondered what else Everett had said, but decided not to ask. “We’re not. But he and I had a run-in of sorts, and it seems he couldn’t stop talking.”
She frowned, and he could see she was trying to make some sense of that.
“So, how is Everett?”
“He’s in jail. And soon enough, probably by next Tuesday, he’ll be swinging from the gallows.”
A look of shock crossed her face, and John realized the words came out differently than he had intended.
“What’d he do?” she asked.
A sick feeling rushed into his stomach at the sound in her voice. What is this? he wondered. After all the years and all that had happened, why did she care?
John said, “He killed a man.” He shifted in his chair and stared out the window. “In truth, he’s killed several, but this is the only one I can actually do something about.”
“And why couldn’t you do anything about the others?”
“Most of them, I didn’t have any proof.” He sighed. “Another one…”
He stopped and saw Lois staring at him. Silent. Waiting.
He gave her a frustrated glance. “Look, I’ve got something I need to say.” He rubbed at his brow. “It’s something I can’t get away from, no matter how hard I try, so please--please listen and don’t say anything until I’m through.”
Lois reached over and touched his arm.
“Several years ago,” he said, “right before I disappeared and left you wondering what happened, I went out one night with Everett. To kill a coyote.”
They had ridden for several miles, the occasional rush of air and the steady clop of horse hooves being the only sound between them. Finally, Hayworth said, “How sure are you that he’ll be there?”
“I know John,” Everett said. "He's there."
Hayworth shook his head. “It’s a long way out here, if he’s not.”
Everett looked straight ahead. “A few more miles, and we’ll know soon enough, now won’t we?”