As Ben walked out onto the empty porch of the saloon, Emma’s footsteps followed him. He stopped next to the bench. This was the ugly side of the porch, where people emptied their stomachs and fought out their arguments, sometimes under Emma’s supervision.
“Now, tell me about your plan.” Her voice was stern.
Ben turned around but didn’t dare to look at her face. His eyes rested on her hands. He could vividly remember how they had slapped him in the face, punched him in the stomach, pushed him against the wall. But now they rested on her hips. He knew that honesty made her more lenient.
“Peter and I want to start our own saloon.” Ben smiled. He hoped she might laugh at him and be done with it, but Emma wasn’t known for her sense of humour. He stared at her hands.
She raised one of them to touch her brow in a thinking gesture. “Ben…”
He shuffled his feet, waiting for her to tell him how stupid he was and that he should shut up and get back to work. But she closed in on him and he had to look her in the eyes.
“Why?” That one word was laden with emotion. She knew he was serious. She always knew.
“We just want to stand on our own feet.” Ben shrugged and smiled again. “We want to see if we can do this. We have some ideas and…”
She raised her hand and Ben flinched, but she put it on his shoulder. “You are my sunshine, Ben. It’s your mood and your jokes that light up the saloon.” Her eyes imprisoned him. “Why would you do this to me? Why would you want to stab me in the back? Haven’t I treated you well? Haven’t I taught you everything you know about serving drinks and managing money? Don’t I pay you well?”
“It’s… It’s not that I want to hurt you. I wanted to tell you before…”
“But you do hurt me. You didn’t tell me until someone warned me about it.”
He took a deep breath. He would have liked to back away, create a safe distance, but he couldn’t move.
“You know as well as I do that this town isn’t big enough for more than one saloon. You know the implications.” She let him go and turned to look into town. “But if this is what you want, then I can’t stop you.”
He looked at her in disbelief. He had expected anything but this. And it hurt more than everything he had expected.
She placed her hands on her hips again, but then noticed that one of the buttons on her sleeve was undone and she proceeded to close it and check all the buttons on both sleeves.
He cleared his throat. “You have some customers who are unhappy with you and the way you run things. Peter and I thought we could cater to them and then you…”
“They’re still my customers.”
Ben looked at his feet. The pianola in the bar stopped. Everything was remarkably quiet; no shouting, no fighting.
“Do you really want to do this?” Her jaw was clenched as she stared into town.
“I do.” He said. “And so does Peter.”
She glared at him. “Then I don’t want to see you here anymore. I don’t want to talk to you unless you’re dying.”
She turned and walked back inside. Someone greeted her and asked for a drink. The pianola was turned back on again. Ben shivered.