Jenny continued to poke at the fire and said, "No, Molly, don't leave. Johnny never came back. You were right. He did leave us." It hurt her to tell the pretty woman her husband had left Ben and her, but it was true. Since they'd hit the trails he'd never stayed away overnight. If for no other reason than to beat Jenny asleep he'd always shown up at before dawn broke. It was something consistent about Johnny.
Molly nodded and edged closer. Jenny swept a hand over the fireside bench and let Molly join her. Ben wasn't anywhere to be seen and Molly carefully asked, "Where's your boy?"
"Oh, he's still out with his buddy, Nate." Jenny smiled widely. Molly was momentarily discouraged by the news but smiled like it was also good news to her.
"That's good. You remember that gambler, Ned, from last night?" Molly locked eyes and pushed her thoughts into the human. Jenny ducked her face and the connection was broken.
Molly avoided swearing because she felt the nearness of another vampire. Since she'd been out in the middle of nowhere for months at a time she knew it was Ned. Sure enough the shape edged closer. It was the same frame and the same feeling of comfort. His face came into vampiric view; she saw his eyes and he met hers nodding, while staying just far enough out of range Jenny couldn't see him with the human range of vision.
"Yes," Jenny answered noncommittally. Even with Molly's explanation of having to work keeping her from visiting Jenny, the woman was still a mite upset. One didn't simply disappear like that -- it wasn't proper. Jenny had thought they were friends. Molly flashed a look and read the body language of the human. Putting charm into her voice she tried to appear less powerful than she was. Jenny wouldn't respond well to over-the-top aggression.
"Well, it turns out he is related to my cousin's mother-in-law." Molly waited for Jenny to do the math and realize she was telling her that Ned was 'family'; out on the trail that went further than money sometimes.
"Okay." Jenny was still guarded.
Molly shifted closer and finally caught Jenny's gaze. Looking deep into the human's eyes she began to push and sooth. It was difficult since Jenny was cautious, but she found the path and caressed her mind. Ned felt the pull and walked into their circle. He sat carefully down on the other side of Jenny and stroked her hand. Jenny sighed and let them both into her mind. Tortured soul with fears buried deeply, she fed both the vampires by the fireside. It wasn't blood but memories of blood and fears.
The two vampires probably would begin to turn Jenny that night. Molly was eager to see what Jenny could offer them as a vampire minion. Molly knew she was that close to crossing over and letting her have control. But humans had luck. Vampires made their luck for the most part. After a few minutes of their sitting by the fire 'relaxing,' Ben bounced into the circle.
Just like that the vampires pulled back and let Jenny's boy clutter the scene. Ned still hadn't explained his disappearance any more than Molly had really explained her absence to Jenny. Molly felt like she was losing control, and Ben glared at them both as he flew to his mother's side.
"Sorry I'm so late. Nate had to go to bed so I knew it was later than I thought. Pa come back?" Warily Ben glanced around, ignoring Molly and Ned, looking to see if Johnny had wandered back to torture his family.
"No, I don't think he's coming back, Son," Jenny softly admitted. Her face looked relieved yet tired. Ben edged closer than normally and stroked his mother's arm. He stood in front of his mother and he could feel her pulse thumping through her arms to his fingertips and knew she was fretting.
Molly didn't want the humans to get too sad. It wasn't good for feeding vampires. Fears and blood fed them. Adding in human sadness just made them somewhat suicidal. Not a good combination, given most vampires thought of their true death nightly if not hourly.
Jenny tried to distract Ben from being too upset by saying, "Guess what? Turns out Molly and Ned are kin to each other!" She made her voice lively and tried to appear happy to tell Ben about the two newcomers.
Ben looked at the two vampires on either side of his mom, not knowing what they were, but his suspicions that they just weren't right sat plainly on his face for them both to read. Not given to chattering, he'd pretty much used up all his words when he first came back from being out exploring with Nate. For a little bit of time he'd got to forget. But life was leisurely only for the truly wealthy, not for children and folks on the road. He knew he had to be strong for his mother.
Ned saw the boy's reaction and caught Molly's gaze with his. A slight nod to the child and her lips tightened. She'd seen the same thing Ned saw -- problems.
Jenny missed all the byplay of the other three and got up, moving Ben aside with a light swat on his backside while saying, "Okay, you just get yourself washed up. I see far too much of the field on your face. I'll rustle up something for dinner."
A frown between her eyes as she did the head count and mentally ran over what she had left in her larder. She could make some biscuits and she was pretty sure they still had a bit of salt pork but needed to sniff it first and make sure it hadn't gone over. Molly said, "Ned, did you remember to bring the chickens?"
Jenny's eyes were huge. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had chicken.
He threw a quizzical look at the vampire who slid him a coin quickly while patting his hand saying, "Just go back and fetch those now please. The man said he had two layers and a few pot ready."
With that he knew he was expected to come back with at least two egg laying chickens and some for dinner. Just to be on the safe side he asked, "Do I have to carry back that bag of flour too or can I have that delivered later?"
Molly flashed a grin as he'd caught on and embellished.
"Ned, why would a big strong man like you need someone else to carry things for you?" Ben who couldn't keep from eyeing the large man in amazement as he'd heard the snicker in her voice. He'd only seen his folks fight, and never saw strangers poke each other like that. He knew words could hurt nearly as much as tight fists. Ned flushed and snarled, "I have no problems carrying all sorts of things, Molly. I have been known even to carry a few of other folks problems."
Her lips tightened at his jab back at her. She stomped her foot and said, "Well, what ya waiting for?"
"Nothing." Ned ambled away to do Molly's bidding.
"Jenny, I didn't realize that Ned hadn't delivered the supplies earlier. Here you are fretting about feeding us, and I was planning on treating you for being so kindly to me." Molly made it seem like everyone delivered poultry and staples when joining a camp.
Given her present circumstances Jenny wasn't going to refuse Molly's kindness. Hiding a blush, she began to fuss water on the fire and pushed Ben down to the creek to clean up and fetch another pot full of water. If they were going to have chicken she'd need to scald the bird once killed before having to pluck the feathers off. It would take some work, but she was more than willing to wait a bit for such a treat. Her stomach growled in anticipation of real food for a change.
Once Ben and Ned had left, Molly trailed after Jenny attempting to help. It had been so long since Molly had even tried to pass off as human she didn't have a clue how to aid the woman in preparations. Jenny didn't notice as she was still flustered by Molly's beauty and intensity. Watching Jenny closely, Molly saw how nervous she made her and backed off just a little. Not too far -- just far enough to miss sipping down the fears but enough distance to keep out of the woman's way.
All too soon both Ned and Ben were back and Molly had yet to put a single fang into Jenny. Ned caught Molly's hunger and whispered as he went by, "No."
Molly growled her answer and swung away saying, "Jenny, I'll be right back I need to go collect something."
Ned shook his head as Molly fled into the night. He had smelled the blood on Molly and knew she'd been at another's throat. He wasn't positive but he thought she was getting out of control again. When he'd picked up the hens and flour he'd heard about the accident at the saloon and figured that had been Molly's fault. He wondered if she even remembered killing the man.
Without much talk he helped Jenny with the killing of the two birds and preparing the meal. The laying hens were still in their crates and he tossed some feed into the metal dishes that came with the birds. They clucked and ate up the grains quickly. Jenny shot him a grateful look. He had little taste for food, but could eat when he had to pass off as human. Ben wasn't able to stay awake so late so Jenny gave him some of the treats Ned had picked up. With the money Molly had given him he was able to buy quite a few things and had put in some sweets into the mix knowing Jenny hadn't been able to give the boy such luxuries. Ben resented that it came from them, but didn't refuse the sweet. Ned knew that boy was going to be a problem.
Dawn broke and again Jenny found herself alone in the bedding. Ben was already gone from his corner and she was exhausted. Ned and Molly had kept her up half the night talking and laughing. She felt better having eaten and knew that she had plenty of food for the coming week. Also Molly said she knew of some work in the town further west she'd heard from a traveling man she'd met in her job. She promised Jenny that she'd find out more before anything else was said. With what she and Ned had given Jenny, there weren't any immediate worries. Jenny had slept deeper than she ever dreamt possible since she'd married Johnny.
And if they moved on, Johnny wouldn't be able to come back. That was something that made her flinch. The idea of Johnny changing his mind and coming back to find her and Ben scared her and if she wasn't here he couldn't find her. It wasn't a bad idea.
Ben came back in the middle of the day with a string of fish. His shirttails were slightly out and his suspender strap half off one shoulder but he was smiling. It dawned on her that she hadn't seen him smile much in the past few months.
Jenny was proud of her son. Nate came over after Ben had dropped off the fish -- he too had caught some, he told Jenny. She fed them both and then Ben ran off to play with the boy. That was the one thing holding her back from saying yes to Molly about the move. She didn't want to see her son sad after finally finding a friend. But at the same time it was seductive to her. To be free of Johnny without looking back was a luxury she never thought to have in her lifetime. She always figured one night Johnny would punch her too hard and she wouldn't wake up. The choices in her life were exciting and scary at the same time.
Night fell quickly on the edges of nowhere. Ben asked to camp over at Nate's. Jenny wandered over and made sure it was okay with the family. It wasn't a family, but a father and grandfather and Nate. Seeing how rough they had it she sent Ben over with some of the chicken and biscuits she'd made. The food was appreciated and understood as a thanks for having her boy hanging around. The calm men were a good influence on her son, Jenny thought. They were well spoken and religious. The grandfather had been some sort of a minister in Europe she found out and that helped her feel safer with entrusting her son to their care.
Feeling somewhat lost Jenny went back to her meager fire. It was the first time she'd been alone in decade or so. There always was someone who needed tending. She took a deep breath and began to finally relax. The surrounding nightly rustling of the folks at their camps was nice.