Like a prisoner waiting for a pardon from the governor, Slade sat in the visitor’s chair across from the Reverend Cavanaugh’s desk, staring at his pocket watch as it ticked closer and closer to six o’clock.
Out in the hallway, the Good Reverend chatted with the bride.
“Reverend,” Sarah said. “Surely there’s some biblical interpretation that would render the bed sheet unnecessary?”
“Oh no,” Reverend Cavanaugh replied. “For as Hezekiah said unto Mordecai who in turn said unto the Edomites, ‘Whoever lies together as husband and wife shall form an eternal bond of the flesh that shall never be torn asunder…”
“Yes, I’ve read Hezekiah’s pronouncements on the subject,” Sarah said. “But my first husband, God rest his soul, departed quite some time ago. Isn’t the promise made during a marriage ceremony restricted to ‘until death do us part?’”
“One would think so,” the Reverend said. “But funny thing about that. The Apostle Paul once gave a testimony which stated…”
Slade’s head hit the desk with a colossal “THUD” as his bride walked away with the preacher. He shut his eyes. He tuned out the world. He rested there for a few minutes, clearing his mind of any thoughts. It felt good to have some peace.
It was short lived. He heard footsteps enter the room and looked up to find a redhead standing over him.
“I shouldn’t be here I know,” Miss Bonnie said as she tucked a roll of bills into Slade’s hand. “I just wanted you to have this.”
“What’s this for?” Slade asked.
“It’s all the money you ever paid me,” Miss Bonnie said.
Slade attempted to hand it back. “I don’t want this.”
“I know,” Miss Bonnie said as she pushed Slade’s hand away. “But I need you to take it. I realized it too late but the time we had together was very special to me. In the future, when I look back on it, I don’t want to think it had anything to do with money.”
Slade looked at the cash in his hand. “That’s not what you said though.”
“I know,” Miss Bonnie said.
“You said I was just a customer,” Slade said.
“I know,” Miss Bonnie replied. “And I was wrong. You weren’t. You were a lot more than that. Take care of yourself, OK?”
Miss Bonnie pecked a quick kiss on Slade’s cheek and then started to walk away. Slade grabbed her arm.
“You can’t just do this,” he said.
“Do what?” Miss Bonnie asked.
As it always did around his favorite redhead, Slade’s rasp disappeared and his tongue untied itself. “You can’t tell me I don’t mean anything to you and then show up and tell me you changed your mind after someone else falls for me without having to think twice about it. We’re not kids and you can’t treat me like I’m some old toy you lost interest in only to like it again once you see some other kid playing with it.”
“I’m sorry,” Miss Bonnie said. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I’ll go.”
“So what is this?” Slade asked. “You make some grand romantic gesture and I’m supposed to leave Sarah at the altar for you and if I don’t then what? It’s MY fault that we aren’t together now?”
“No,” Miss Bonnie said.
“Because it’s not my fault,” Slade said.
Miss Bonnie’s tears started to flow. “I know. I’ll go to my grave knowing it’s my fault. Is that what you want me to say?”
“No,” Slade said.
“Every day I wake up wishing I hadn’t said what I did to you that day,” Miss Bonnie said. “But I did. And I can’t change that.”
Slade felt like crying now. Of course he didn’t. Tough guys don’t cry.
“There is no choice for you here,” Miss Bonnie said. “If I felt like I could be half the wife she could be to you then maybe I’d ask you to run away with me but I know I could never make you as happy as she could.”
Slade sniffled. He was sure it was just a stuffed up nose. It had nothing to do with sadness whatsoever. “You’re wrong about that.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Miss Bonnie said. “If you asked me right here, right now to run away with you I still wouldn’t because I’d never want another woman to suffer the humiliation of being left on her wedding day because of me.”
Slade and Miss Bonnie stared into each other’s eyes for a moment, each wondering who would break first.
“Run away with me,” Slade said.
Miss Bonnie patted Slade on the cheek. “Nope.”
The would be couple that never was gawked at each other for at least another minute, drinking each other in. Miss Bonnie dried her eyes.
“Goodbye,” Miss Bonnie said and turned around only to bump right into the bride herself.
Sarah was a vision in white. Perfect hair. Perfect makeup. Perfect everything. Mrs. Anderson had outdone herself.
It was an emotional encounter for Slade. First, a terrifying panic washed over him. How much had Sarah heard? She wasn’t saying anything. Was she mad? The panic turned into relief. He’d been caught. He’d feel terrible but now the wedding would be off and he never actually had to stop it himself. Except Sarah didn’t look mad. Why wasn’t she mad?
“Rain,” Sarah said. “Mr. O’Brien is waiting to take our picture.”
The rasp returned. “OK.”
“Who is this?” Sarah asked.
To Slade’s dismay, Miss Bonnie was an exceptional con-artist.
“So anyway, Mr. Slade,” Miss Bonnie said. “I’d be happy to donate some wine for your wedding. What do you think? About a half dozen bottles?”
“Shit” was what Slade thought but “yup” was all he said.
“Oh hello there,” Miss Bonnie said as she shook Sarah’s hand. “Bonnie Lassiter and you must be the lucky lady.”
“Hello,” Sarah said.
“I run the saloon down the road and let me tell you, Mr. Slade was a big help when he was the law in these parts,” Miss Bonnie said. “Yessiree, whenever there was a stick-up or a drunk that needed tossing out why, good old Marshal Slade was right there to do his duty. I just felt I had to do something to show my appreciation when I heard you two were having your nuptials.”
Sarah was clearly buying it. Unfortunately, the performance had the effect of making Slade fall for Miss Bonnie even harder.
“Oh,” Sarah said. “Yes! I have heard of you! Mrs. Hutchins told me you’re the town whore!”
“Ugh,” Miss Bonnie said. “That bitch.”
“Pardon?” Sarah asked.
“Oh that’s rich,” Miss Bonnie said. “That Ophelia Hutchins, she’s a real cut up. I don’t do that anymore.”
“Well good for you,” Sarah said. “It’s never too late to save your soul.”
“Yeah,” Miss Bonnie said as she headed for the door. “I’m all kinds of worried about my soul. So anyway, I’ll have that wine sent right over.”
“Oh no thank you,” Sarah said. “We don’t drink.”
“Of course you don’t,” Bonnie said. “What was I thinking? Everyone knows Rainier Slade is the biggest teetotaler in town. Sarsaparilla it is!”
Miss Bonnie walked away and Slade feared, out of his life forever.
“Oh my,” Sarah said as she left the room. “It’s bad luck for us to see each other right now, isn’t it? I’ll see you outside.”
The money in Slade’s hand had become wet with his sweat. He mulled over Miss Bonnie’s words. “There is no choice for you here.”
An empty collection plate sat on the Reverend’s desk. Slade plunked the money on top of it and reported for duty.