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Crossroads

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Cudlip is standing by the wagon tracks, looking at the tin star he’s holding between two fingers, and then at all the bodies on the ground, at Preacher lying with his arms stretched out, at Sampson facedown in the dust, Ben’s bullet in his back.

He wants to run until he can see no sign of human life, he wants to howl out his pain, loneliness, guilt, despair. He wants to give the damn star back to Ben, who’d make a much better sheriff anyway. He wants to be dead beside his friends.

Then his eyes lift and meet Ben’s. Ben now is silent, after saying You’re not alone, you’re one of us. A friend. Ben wants him to stay although he has known for some time exactly who Cudlip was, what he had done, what he had been planning. And yet he has steadfastly been by Cudlip’s side, getting angry at him for drifting and living by his wits, and relentlessly pushing him to make choices, to rethink and rebuild his life, to become part of the community.

The community. Cooper, the miners, the saloon. And Sally, a lovely, warm daydream that for a few days put a sparkle in Cudlip’s eyes and a spring in his step. Sally, who was kind to him, and needed him when she was in danger, but who never really knew or wanted him: too many differences between them, too much that was left unsaid.

Cudlip sighs, thinking of long soft brown hair, full breasts, coy smiles. Then frowns, confused and uncomfortable, as other images surface in his mind: auburn hair, broad shoulders, nimble dancing feet, direct dark eyes, full lips, and an open, apparently guileless smile.

Ben will be at Cudlip’s side through the next weeks and months of pain and guilt. He’ll be there when Cudlip is ready to laugh again. He may even – perhaps after the two of them have had a few drinks – start teaching him how to read and write.

Slowly, barely controlling his shaking fingers, Cudlip pins the tin star back onto his new green vest.