Cade had never laid eyes on the man before.
Ella nodded toward the gentleman. “This is Mr. Barton. He’s traveled here from New York. Can you imagine such a journey?”
“Indeed.” Cade shook the gentleman’s hand, staring back into the stranger’s face with intense resolve. “May I inquire as to your business in Whippercreek, sir?”
“Well yes, of course.” The man nodded, returning his penetrating gaze eye to eye. “I own a share of the mine. Mr. Edgerton sends me his proceeds, but with it out of commission, I’m afraid my sum has been rather minute lately. They say, it collapsed? I could not fathom such an atrocity. I’ve come to check my assets and make sure it gets started back on solid ground, so to speak.”
“I see,” Cade said, feeling rather relieved by the man’s response. “Have you traveled elsewhere in the territory?”
“No, not as of yet. I had plans to visit another mine in Bannack, but stopped here firstly.”
“Oh?” Cade said, feeling rather panicked by the familiar town’s name.
“Yes,” Ella answered him. “Mr. Barton, Mr. Stevens is our sheriff here in town. He has performed his duties excellently. We are rather spoiled by his presence.”
Cade’s face flushed. “Honestly, there hasn’t been much need for a sheriff.”
“Oh come now, I’m sure you’re far too modest.”
Ella nodded. “Mr. Stevens actually has travelled quite extensively as well. Perhaps, you shall meet some of his former relations in your own travels?” Ella glanced between the two men, waiting for an amiable response.
Cade cleared his throat, trapped by her questions again. “Bannack, only in stories have I heard the name. Now, if you’ll excuse me. I must be on my way. Have a splendid evening, Mr. Barton, Ms. Whitley.” Cade turned and rushed out the back door, leaving the social’s laughter behind him. He hoped his face would fade in the man’s memory, like the glow of the town, which dulled behind him.
He made his way to the church. Tonight, it rested empty. Sometimes he needed a place like that. The heavy wooden door creaked into silence, reprieve from the chaos below. His stomach churned. Cade glanced back toward town. The laughter and lantern light continued on. He stepped into the dark sanctuary and felt his way past the pews.
Once near the front, he found a candle and lit it. He carried the light with him to a pew. There, he took a seat with a sigh. Your scar might be permanent, but the past God can change. Ella’s words echoed through the sanctuaries of his heart.
“Nobody can change who I am!” He yelled into the darkness.
He felt the rope already tightening around his neck. He had lived so foolishly. Of course they would come. Why have I ever pretended to move beyond the past? I’m such a fool! Cade knelt with his hands in his head.
“You don’t hear me!” He whispered. “You never have! I’ve lived my entire life on my own. How could you even understand?” Cade wept. He had known to never settle, and yet he had desired to do so…
“Why don’t you care about me like you care about the Whitleys and Pelkman? Why have you forced me to live my life alone?” Cade waved his fist toward heaven, smacking it on the edge of the church pew. A Bible fell open on the floor. He picked it up and read by the candle’s light.
Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
Tears poured from his eyes. It was a lie. I’m not valuable to anyone. I hate the man I’ve become. Men hate the man I am, with you it is no different. He wiped the tear from his cheek.
Again, Ella’s words echoed through his mind. “If you’re listening, then why have I felt so alone?” He cried into the darkness.
“Cade?” Ella called.
He jumped to his feet, watched her silhouette enter through the rear door, and turned his back to her so she wouldn’t see his tears. “Have I not made it perfectly clear, I prefer being left alone.” His voice quivered with anger.
“You’ve certainly made such sentiments known.”
“Then why do you insist on following me?” He begged.
“The socials finishing. I saw the light inside the church and decided to check on things. I heard your voice. Might I ask who you were talking to?”
Cade shook his head. “God, I guess. I’m just having a word with him, that’s all.”
“But you don’t feel like he’s listening?”
“I didn’t say…” He sighed, knowing she had heard the final miserable breaths.
“Well, I can tell you he does listen. Maybe you just aren’t asking him the right things. Maybe you need to start by asking him for forgiveness.”
“I don’t need forgiveness.” A metallic taste filled his mouth.
“Well, I do, and if you ever need it, he listens to those requests especially well. That’s why, we gather in this building. Maybe, if you desire to have him listen to you, you should start there.”
Cade couldn’t respond. He stared at the flickering candlelight. How could she be so sure?
“I’ll leave you be. Have a good night, Cade.” And just like that, Ella slipped out of the doorway.
Cade stood alone in the darkness. The candle filled the room with dancing shadows. He pinched the wick and sat, his stomach churning.
After minutes of resting in silence, he bowed his head and whispered. “God, if you hear me, I’m aimin’ to talk to you. I need to tell you some things that have happened. I killed a man…” His voice broke. “I ain’t saying I haven’t done other wrongs, I surely do, but I’m saying I need forgiveness more than most. I can’t keep on the run my whole life, and I’m out of my plans. Take hold of this mess of a life I’ve lived and show me where to go, how to become a man, not some worthless outlaw with a penance to his head. I’ve always wanted to be more than my father’s namesake. Give me more than such a life and forgive me for I’ve done wrong.”
Cade sat on the pew and cried. His heart filled with a deep sense of relief. Somehow, God had heard those words. Something inside of him felt the release. Burdens, he had carried for far too long, let go in an instant. He couldn’t explain it, but God stood with him. He didn’t walk alone anymore.