Ezra Tanner opened his eyes one winter’s morning and knew there was something wrong.
It was after daylight – a quick glance at the wall clock showed it to be 9.30 – and his wife was still cuddled up next to him!
Are you awake? he sent very softly.
Yeah, came the immediate answer, though the sandy-haired lump didn’t move a muscle. Have been for awhile.
Nodding, Ezra switched to soft speech as he ran his palm down her arm. “In that case – not that I’m complaining, mind you – why are you still a-bed?”
Fraid t’move, she sent back as a shiver wracked her frame. Fraid t’try.
“Vivian …what’s the matter?” He sent a message to Chris to alert Nathan, only to have it bounce back at him. Chris’s side of the Link was down – which, since Ezra could feel the ‘buzz’ of his mental presence, more than likely meant Chris was asleep or drunk.
Vivian sighed softly and spoke. Her voice sounded strained. “If’n I move… I can’t guarantee m’stomach’ll move with me.”
“You’re ill?” The back of his hand gently touched her forehead and the one exposed cheek. “You don’t feel hot….”
“Ain’t got a fever,” she groaned. “Just butterflies in m’stomach that’re tryin’ their damnedest t’get outta m’mouth.”
“You’re nauseated, in other words.” Ezra rubbed her back and arm. “Can you make it onto your stomach?”
There was a pause, then – slowly – Vivian rolled onto her stomach. Ezra gently maneuvered her so that her face was slightly off the bed. He slid a clean basin onto the floor beside her pillow. “Much obliged,” she groaned.
Ezra kissed her cheek and caressed her shoulder. “I’ll get Nathan.”
“No…there’s no need.”
“Ez, I promise – if this don’t ease in a couple’a hours, you can get him. Just….just give m’body a chance to recover on m’own ‘fore you drag Nate inta this.”
Now the pause was on Ezra’s end as he considered her words. After a moment, he nodded. “Very well…you are the one who has to live within her skin.”
Her warm smile shone on him. “Hey. Love ya, Ace.”
He couldn’t help but smile in return. “Love you too, darlin’.” He kissed her cheek again. “I will get myself decent, and procure some breakfast.”
She nodded slowly. “Somethin’ light?”
“Of course, beloved. Rest well.”
“Watch yer back.” Her eyes closed as she fought the rolling of her stomach.
I always do, he smiled and laid his fingertips on her cheek before he went to dress.
She was astounded to find nobody was there to meet her at the stage. Then again, she’d not sent word when she would arrive.
She lifted her two carpetbags and moved toward the hotel. She’d traveled very light this trip.
Worry hadn’t let her rest or pack.
She checked in and sat down on her bed, pulling the telegram from her pocket and re-reading it.
Ezra Standish no longer living in Four Corners
“Since when?” she whispered. “Where are you? Why didn’t you inform me?” She sighed.
“It isn’t right! I’m the one supposed to vanish, not my boy!”
Ezra walked down the stairs into the saloon, and smiled to see a small crowd already gathered.
Inez smiled at him in return as he approached the bar. “Buenos días, Seńor Tanner.”
“Buenos días, Inez.” He looked around. “I see we’ve a breakfast crowd!”
“Sí,” Inez chuckled. “I was unaware my huevos rancheros would be such a success!” She pushed him a plate and a fork. “Try it!”
Ezra did, and his eyes went wide. “Oh, this is delightful!” Then he licked his lips. “Inez, can you make a breakfast that will lay well on an upset stomach?”
“You are ill, Seńor?”
“No, Inez – Seńora Tanner is ill. Can you prepare a light meal?”
“Certainly – I will bring both up to you.” She smiled. “A light meal for la Seńora and my huevos rancheros for you.”
Ezra leaned over the bar and kissed her cheek. “Dulce, you are a wonder. Muchas gracias.” He headed back up the stairs.
Nathan unfolded himself from the shadows and walked over. “I couldn’t help overhearin’… did he say Vivian’s sick?”
Inez nodded. “I’ll make her a light breakfast.” She turned to do just that.
Nathan nodded. “You do that – I’ll take it up.” He looked up the stairs and frowned. “Damn gambler – your wife’s health ain’t somethin’ t’fool around with!”
By the time the knock came, Vivian had pulled on one of Ezra’s shirts and was sitting up. “Still got th’butterflies,” she informed Ezra, “but they’re calmin’ down.”
Ezra walked over and opened the door. “Come on in, Ine--Nathan?”
“Aww, hell,” Vivian groaned.
“Don’t you ‘Aww, hell’ me,” Nathan groused as he set the tray down. “I overheard Ezra tellin’ Inez.” He sat down and hovered a hand over her stomach. “I don’t care how much Ez thinks he can do, your health ain’t somethin’ to gamble with!”
“Now just a minute!” Ezra began, but was cut off by Vivian.
“Nate, Ez wanted t’get you! I’m the one who said no!”
Nathan frowned. “You mean he—“
She nodded. “Nate, I‘ll be fine. It’s just a little sour stomach. If’n it hangs ‘round, I’ll let you poke an’ prod. Okay?”
“Fair enough.” Nathan smiled. “It figures my two most rambunctious patients would end up married to each other!”
Ezra smiled at him. “It’s in the cards,” he quipped.
Nathan groaned and pointed at Vivian. “You’re still sick in two days or this don’t work, you come to me.” He pressed a steaming mug into her hand. “Peppermint tea,” he said with a smile. “Eat your breakfast and hopefully, I won’t see you in a few days!”
Ezra closed the door behind Nathan a moment later and saw Vivian lowering the mug. “It is peppermint, then?”
She nodded. “Damn sight better’n his horse piss. Ooh…” her eyes widened. “Broth, a toasted tortilla and scrambled eggs!”
“Light, but filling.” Ezra smiled and dug into his own meal. “Inez knows her way around a kitchen, that’s for certain!”
Vivian smiled and dug in. Once their meals were demolished, she slowly stood up.
“Feeling stronger?” Ezra asked.
“Some, yes.” She made her way to the window and drew in a breath. “Ezra – come here.”
“What is it?” he asked as he made his way to her side.
“Ain’t that your ma down there?”
He drew in a breath. “It certainly is! What is she doing here? And why didn’t she tell me she was coming?”
As Ezra was mostly dressed, he only had to pull on his boots. Vivian handed him his guns and he pulled on his tan jacket. A gentle kiss to his wife’s lips, and he headed on an intercept course as she belatedly prepared for the day.
Maude had seen Sheriff Dunne go into the jail and was walking that way herself. If Ezra had vanished, his six companions would be the most logical place to start looking. She had just stepped off the boardwalk when she heard it.
“Mother! Mother, wait!”
She froze. “….Mother?” She turned and her eyes widened as she felt her jaw lower.
He was pelting toward her from the direction of the saloon. Dungarees, plain shirt, tan jacket and no hat – but he was there!
He reached her and was startled to find himself crushed against her in a somewhat trembling embrace. The shock only deepened when she pushed him away and cracked the palm of her hand against his cheek with such vehemence it spun him around!
“I’m happy to see you as well, Mother,” he gritted out, wiping a smear of blood from the corner of his mouth. “Although I admit to a great deal of confusion. What was that strange greeting for?”
“I thought you had vanished!” she screeched. “Just up and gone, without a word!”
He managed a tight smile. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve gone nowhere.”
“Disappoint?” she gasped. “Hell’s bells, Ezra! I came all the way out here to find you!”
He frowned, more confused than ever. Leading her to the chairs on the boardwalk, he asked, “To find me? Why?”
Her eyes widened again. “Ezra – I realise I’ve given you paltry reasons to believe this, but I do love you! And when Taylor—“
“Tyler,” he corrected automatically.
“Tyler wired me that you no longer lived in Four Corners, I—“
“Wait.” He held up a hand. “Tyler did what?”
“He wired me that you had departed this municipality!”
“Have you the wire, still?” She nodded and produced it. He read it aloud. “’Ezra Standish no longer lives in Four Corners STOP Hasn’t for some weeks now STOP Tyler FULL STOP’.”
Then Ezra blinked and read it again, silently. A slow smile spread and he began to laugh.
Stunned, Maude gaped at him. “What ever are you braying at?” she snarled.
Gaining a modicum of control, Ezra waved the telegram. “He-he’s right!” he gasped, still laughing. “Ezra Standish hasn’t lived here for six weeks!”
“What?” Then comprehension lit her eyes. “You changed your name for a con? Oh, and I blurted it out in the middle of the street!”
“Mother, it’s all right!” he soothed, still grinning. “No, it’s not for a con. I got married, Mother – and my wife’s maiden name was so precious to her, I was honored to take it as my own.”
Maude stared at him, and then smiled. “We never could do things the traditional way! Married, eh? What is my son’s new name?”
“Tanner, Mother. My name is Ezra Tanner.”
Maude frowned. “Ezra…Tanner?” At his nod, her frown deepened. “But…but there’s in only one Tanner in Four Cor—“ She gazed at him, her eyes widening as her face paled.
“Mother?” Ezra asked, alarmed at her sudden pallor.
“How could you?” she hissed. “I have told you all your life about appearances…and you throw it away to become a…a….”
He blinked at her, and then he started laughing. “Oh, Mother… no! I assure you, I am hardly a sodomite!”
She glared at him. “Well, what would you call it, claiming to be wedded to another man!”
“If I were wedded to another man, I would call it what you do. But I am wedded to a lovely woman.”
“Yeah, he is,” Vivian said as she walked up. “Don’t stare so, Maudie – your eyes might fall outta your head.”
Maude watched the rapt smile spread on her son’s face as he slid an arm around the lovely woman’s slim waist and pulled her close. His eyes shone with love, and she relaxed to see the same look mirrored in the woman’s eyes. “Mrs. Tanner, I presume?”
She nodded. “Vivian Tanner, yes, ma’am.”
It was the way she said ‘ma’am’ that did it. “….Vin?”
She smiled at Maude, and any lingering doubt was removed. “It’s a long story – why don’t we tell it over a light late breakfast?”
Ezra frowned at his wife. “Your stomach?”
Maude noticed the young woman’s slight pallor. “My dear, are you ill?”
Vivian chuckled. “Nah, just nauseated. I’s able to keep breakfast down and I’m a little hungry.”
Maude stepped forward. “A repast sounds heavenly….Vivian.”
As they ate, the entire fantastic story came out. Maude shook her head in amazement as she watched their interplay. At last, she smiled at them. “You are genuinely in love,” she pronounced. “And your mental link – the one that so confused me when I was here last?”
“Intact,” they said together.
Her smile grew. “Then you are doubly blessed. Communication is very important in a marriage – and the pair of you have an advantage over the rest of us mere mortals in that area.”
Together, they laughed. Maude then set down her fork. “Vivian – walk with me. I’ve something to ask you in private.” She looked at Ezra. “Nothing bad, Ezra. Close your mouth.”
He obeyed, a slight tinge of pink touching his cheeks.
Maude and Vivian walked for a few moments in silence, then Maude told her softly, “I am about to ask you some very personal questions, Vivian. Your answers will be kept between the two of us until you feel ready to share.”
Vivian looked at her. “I got your word?”
“You have my word.” At Vivian’s nod, she asked, “Your breasts…are they swollen and tender?” Vivian nodded, blushing.
Maude touched an area of her own abdomen and asked, “Do you feel tender and hard to the touch here?” The blush deepened. “And you are nauseated in the mornings. Vivian, go to Mister Jackson as soon as you can.”
Vivian stopped walking and paled. “There is somethin’ wrong, then.”
“Oh, heavens, no!” Maude smiled and caught her hands. “Vivian – you are carrying my son’s child!”
Her eyes widened and she pulled her hands from Maude’s. “I’m….what?!”
“You’re pregnant, Vivian.” Maude smiled at her. “You are going to make my son a father and me a….” Her smile faded and a gloved hand went to her forehead. “…grandmother….”
“Maudie?” Vivian embraced the swaying woman. “You all right?”
Maude nodded. “It’s just….I’m too young to be a grandmother!”
Vivian chuckled at that. “Same old Maudie.”
Grinning at her, Maude came out of her dramatics. “I’m serious, Vivian. Would you like me to go to Nathan’s with you?”
“Nah. I can do it m’self.” She squeezed Maude’s arm and headed up to the clinic stairs to talk to Nathan.
Once Nathan got over the shock of Vivian actually coming to him instead of him having to bully her into the clinic, he examined her.
The diagnosis was exactly what Maude had predicted. “It’s a little early to say for certain – need another few weeks…” He smiled. “But if I had to guess, I’d say Maude’s exactly right. You’re gonna have a baby! Congratulations!”
Ezra was sitting in the saloon when Vivian transmitted the news. Cards fluttered to the floor as he first took on a pole-axed expression, and then slowly began to smile.
Chris came barreling into the saloon a second later. “Ezra! Did she--?”
“She did,” Ezra confirmed in a shout as he stood, upending his chair. Chris whooped and embraced his linkbrother, pounding him on the back.
Ezra then stormed into the street, where Vivian was bolting down the clinic stairs. He let out a joyous whoop, which she answered. She flung herself into her husband’s arms and he spun her around – both of them laughing giddily.
At his laugh of “A baby!” the crowd on the street joined in the hearty celebration, cheering as the Tanners kissed passionately in the middle of main street.
Maude watched the display with – for once – approving silence. A tear kissed the corner of her eye as she remembered her Patrick’s utter ecstasy at discovering Ezra was on the way.
Maude determined then and there she would not censure her son for this unseemly display.
He was, after all, his father’s son.
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