A Moment in Time
JD stared at the white cross. Tears, which never seemed far away these days, welled in his eyes. The fistful of wildflowers in his hand seemed woefully inadequate to express his regret. Loose petals fell to the ground, dislodged by the violent trembling of his body. A soft prayer on his lips, he knelt next to the fresh mound of dirt and spread the colorful bouquet at the base of the crucifix.
Now that he had saved the lives of everyone on the stagecoach from Achilles' gang, the town no longer treated him as a pariah. In a little more than an hour, he had gone from devil to hero. Everyone had forgotten what he did to Annie - everyone but him.
"It'll get easier."
JD's hand reached for his gun as his brain recognized Vin Tanner's soft drawl. Bristling at the familiar platitude, he snapped, "How would you know?"
"I wouldn't," Vin quietly conceded, "if I hadn't been there myself."
Shocked, JD rose, seeing his own sorrow reflected in the haunted blue eyes of his companion. Vin rarely shared his past. Despite the circumstances, JD felt honored to receive this small token of trust. Even as his spirits started to lift at finally finding someone who understood his pain, they crashed with a speed that took his breath away. Vin was a sharpshooter. He could never accidentally kill an innocent bystander.
"He was ten. I weren't much older myself. I was up in a tree waiting for the enemy regiment we had been told to expect. It was my job to pick off the lead group. It weren't 'til after I put a bullet 'tween his eyes, I saw the drum hanging from 'is shoulder."
Identifying with the torment audible in the narration, JD tried to ease his friend's anguish. "It was a war, Vin. You didn't mean ta kill 'im."
"You didn't mean ta kill Annie. Does that make ya feel any less responsible?"
His gaze returning to the new cross, JD still felt remorse, but the debilitating sense of guilt was slipping away. "Will I ever forget?"
"For a minute. Eventually, those minutes will become hours, hours will become days, days will become weeks. We all have a moment in time we'd like ta take back. Some are lucky enough ta only have one."
JD felt a hand slap his shoulder. When he looked up, Vin had disappeared as quickly and quietly as he had arrived. If it wasn't for the lightness in his heart, JD might have believed their conversation had never taken place. With one last glance at Annie's grave, he turned on his heel. Resting his hands on the colts strapped to his hip, the boy who had fired cockily at a group of bank robbers was replaced by a man, determined never to have another moment in time.