Summary: After the scandal surrounding his fiancee’s death, Clem Foster isn’t sure if he has anymore friends left in Virginia City. So he’s determined to do the one thing he feels he can: leave town and never come back.
Rated: T Word Count: 995
You’ve Got a Friend
“If Roy asked you to try and talk me into staying, it’s not going to work. I’m riding out just as soon as I pick my things up from the office.” I said without even turning my head. I didn’t need to look around to know who was standing behind me. Instead I stared down at the modest headstone that marked where the woman I loved had been laid to rest.
A big, warm hand settled on my shoulder, squeezing it lightly. “He did ask, but that’s not the only reason why I’m here. I just figured you might need a friend.”
I snorted. “A friend? I’m pretty sure that, since my fiancee burned down most of the town, I don’t have more than a handful of friends left.”
“You’ve got more friends than you can shake a stick at.”
“No, I don’t! They blame me, and rightly so…it’s my fault after all.” Bitterness tinged my words, but it was aimed more at myself than at the townsfolk. After the news that Janie Lund, my sweet Janie, was the firebug, people had started to avoid me wherever I went. However, that wasn’t the worst of it. On the day of her funeral, a grand total of four people showed up—not counting myself, her aunt, or the preacher from out of town that had been asked to officiate the service.
Four. So much for turning the other cheek.
“Now that just ain’t true!” The hand on my shoulder tugged until I was turned enough to look up into its owner’s serious blue eyes.
“Yes, it is, Hoss! I should have known. I should have seen the signs. Something was wrong with her, but I just chalked it up to pre-wedding jitters!” My thoughts strayed to the vest pocket that held the engagement ring I had given to Janie. “She was sick and I said nothing. Now you see the consequences of my actions.” I gestured down the hill towards what was left of Virginia City. Only a scant few buildings still stood—the sheriff’s office, the bank, the Silver Dollar, a general store, the boardinghouse. The rest were either in the process of being repaired or being torn down to later be replaced.
“You know, she asked me not to postpone the wedding. She begged me to marry her and move away to California or some such place and start a new life with her. I should have listened to her; if I had, she would be alive, the town would be intact, and I might have been able to get her the help she needed.”
“Okay. Say you did marry her and then moved away like she wanted. What’s to say she wouldn’t have started up the fires all over again? If you did find out about her illness, who’s to say she would have even wanted help? Clem, you can’t dwell too much on the “what ifs” in life or they’ll eat you alive. You didn’t know; no one did. It wasn’t your fault. The townsfolk’ll see that—most of them already do. Please stay?”
A hollow chuckle escaped my lips. “You’re a good friend, Hoss, but I can’t stay here…I just can’t.” Turning on my heel, I marched over to where I had tethered my horse; I swung up into the saddle and tapped my heels against the gelding’s flanks.
The streets were empty. The only sign of life was an old dog that lay beneath a dried out azalea bush and the sounds of construction that could be heard at all hours. He lifted his head and watched as I passed by, but made no move to get up.
I guided my horse around a bend and halted. Up ahead was the house I had bought for Janie and me. When the fire had gotten out of control, it had been one of the first buildings to go. The last thing I wanted to do was look at it, but, like the fool I was, I did anyway.
What I saw stopped me in my tracks. A crowd of people were milling about. Men stripped to the waist were toiling over a new house frame that had appeared seemingly out of nowhere. The womenfolk were congregated around a long wooden board that was being used as an impromptu table, setting out dish after dish of food. The older boys and girls were fetching and carrying, and the younger ones were playing a game of tag in an out-of-the-way corner.
One of the men perched on the tie beam paused in his work and noticed me. “Hey, Clem! Grab a hammer and come on up!” he called and I realized it was Fred Davis who owned the now burnt-out livery stable. Several others lifted their heads and waved at me as I sat there in awe.
A familiar figure slipped out of the crowd and he made his way over to me.
“Roy, what…what’s all this?”
The sheriff slipped his thumbs into his belt loops, rocked back on his heels and grinned at me. “Well, I’d kinda think it was obvious. We’re buildin’ a house.”
“Yes, but…I thought—”
“Listen, son. We started workin’ on this yesterday which was why so few made it out to the cemetery. We wanted to get this done to surprise you.”
“But-but they hate me.”
He placed a worn hand on my knee. “Nobody hates you, Clem. You’re one of us, and if there’s anything I know, it’s this: the folks of Virginia City, they take care of their own.”
For the first time since Janie died, I smiled, a real, genuine smile. Hoss was right. I did have more friends than I could shake a stick at.
Author Notes: Janie Lund was Clem’s fiancee who set fire to Virginia City in the twelfth season episode The Night Virginia City Died. This was written for the second level of the “Bonanza Ballads” challenge on Bonanza Boomers in which I had to write a story based on the Carole King song title “You’ve Got a Friend” without actually using any of the lyrics beyond the title.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Tags: Angst, Clem Foster, Friendship, Hoss Cartwright
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