"The Insurance Girls Tell All"
Part 1 - "Song of Solomon"
By Azalea

Rated PG-13

Chapter 5: The Stolen Night of Passion
Milly:     He was a work of art naked. His shoulders were broad and his arms muscular. His thighs were powerful, and his stomach tight. I haven’t seen much in the way of nude males to be able to accurately judge, but he sure didn’t seem to be lacking in any way. It made me a bit nervous, actually. Put all together, he was magnificent. And he was all mine.
        He smiled shyly but warmly, and gestured for me to come over. I wobbled over and literally fell into his arms. “Easy, honey, it’s okay,” he assured me softly. “C’mon.”
        His hand fumbled with the light, but I stopped him before he turned it off. “Keep it turned on, just dim,” I suggested. “I want to be able to see you.”
        “Good idea,” he said, smiling, then led me over to the bed. I gratefully sank upon it. “I want to see you, too.” He lay me back on the mattress-backwards, too! Our heads were at the foot of the bed. It didn’t matter. I breathed rapidly as I looked up at him-there would be no turning back now.
        So many new sensations. I felt the warmth of his chest pressed up against my breasts. I could feel his heart beat-even imagined I could feel the blood coursing through his veins. I felt his warm breath on my neck. My eyes saw his beautiful face and body, and they saw him look at me with tenderness and desire. My ears heard him moan-moan as if he were in pain, yet enjoying it.
        And then I felt him deep inside me. The blood coursing through his veins was now running through mine. Every part of my body, from my fingertips to my toes, was flushed with fire.
        One phase of my life was behind me.
        Tears flowed freely from my eyes. Some were bittersweet tears at losing my innocence, but other tears were from joy at having become one with the man I loved.
        We lay in each other’s arms, catching our breath. Then, softly pressing his lips against my wet cheeks, Nicholas kissed the tears away. “It didn’t hurt, did it?”
        “A little-but in a good way,” I assured him.
        As after our first kiss, he looked vulnerable-and surprised that all this had happened. I leaned on one of my arms, while my other hand played with one of his locks of hair. “What’s it like for you?” I asked, in almost a whisper.
        “It’s like…like dying, yet feeling more alive than ever. And feeling weak and strong all at the same time. And captive, but free.”
        “Yeah, I think I know what--” I sat up. “Hey!”
        “The cross is still in the room.”
        “Yeah, I didn’t move it. Don’t you remember?”
        “I was distracted. It didn’t bother you anymore?”
        He lay back with his arms folded behind his head. “Heck, no. We pledged ourselves to each other in marriage-it’s not a sinful thing anymore.”
        “Yeah, that’s right!”
        “Sex is in the Bible, you know, and not just commands against it-well, certain forms of it. I was reciting from Song of Solomon--don’t you remember reading it?”
        “It’s been awhile.”
        “That’s very erotic-if you know what to look for--but the two lovers are married. But some nights, when I can’t sleep, I’ll read that.”
        I punched him playfully. “Hee hee! You’re silly! Reading the Bible to get turned on!”
        “Well, how about those ‘Begats’ you were talking about? Nobody could begat if they didn’t have sex.”
        Feeling a bit silly, I started reciting the Begats. “‘And Attai begat Nathan, and Nathan begat Zabad…’”
        “You memorized those?” Nicholas asked incredulously.
        “Uh-huh. ‘And Zabad begat Ephlal…’”
        “Of all the passages in the Bible, you chose that. What about John 3:16?”
        “Oh, anyone can memorize John 3:16. I wanted to do something different.”
        “But that’s the most important verse in the Bible. The Begats are just genealogy.”
        “‘And Ephlal begat Obed, and Obed begat Jehu…’”
        “Shut up.”
        “‘And Jehu begat Azariah, and Azariah begat Heloz…’”
        “No, I mean it.”
        “What are you going to do?” I demanded, in mock toughness.
        “I’m gonna shove my tongue down your throat.”
        “Oh, I see!” Wickedly, I continued, “‘And Heloz begat Eleasah, and Eleasah bega-’Mmmph!”
        When he released my mouth and I caught my breath, I asked, “I’d like it if we’d do some begatting of our own.”
        “Yeah, I like kids. I never thought about having any of my own, though, you know, having so many kids at the orphanage…”
        While he was talking, my hands kept caressing him. All over-to memorize with my fingers every inch of him. Deep down, I knew I had to file all these things in my memory. My tender and sometimes bold touches were getting to him.
        “Milly, you make me so crazy!”
        “You mean irritate you, or drive you wild?”
        “A little of both,” he gasped. “But..but mostly the last one.” He cried out as I touched him again. “Why, you little devil!”
        “Oh, I’m a devil now? I thought I was your angel of mercy.”
        “Just shut up.” He drew me in closer, and we kissed.
        We didn’t do a lot of talking after that. They say with sex you can communicate without words. I understood that Nicholas was saying to me that I was beautiful, and that I was well-loved. I tried to communicate to him that he, too, was beautiful. And that he was very worthy of my love.

        Nicholas closed his eyes and settled down in the crook of my arm. His shaggy black locks brushed against my face. He seemed to me so innocent then, and I wanted to protect him.
        I know what they say about guys-that all they want is sex, whenever and however. But it was obvious to me, that although I had given him much pleasure, that Nicholas had sacrificed something of himself for me that night. Something…he said he hadn’t taken a vow to celibacy, right? So I hadn’t made him break a promise-that I knew of. Yet he had been living free from the chains of romance and sex. I had made him feel free and strong and alive, but I had also made him feel bound and weak and as though he were dying. Yeah, he had to give up something to love me. And I was grateful.
        “You know, once when I was traveling from town to town…” he mentioned. “It was when I was looking for Vash, I think. There was nothing but canyonland as far as the eye could see. And I was thinking of you, as I often did, and I was just overcome for some reason. I sank to my knees and shouted your name, shouted ‘I love you’, and listened to the canyon echo it back.”
        I smiled. “Really-you could tell the canyon but you couldn’t tell me!” I pretended to chide.
        “I can tell you now.”
        “Well, tell me.”
        “I love you, Milly Thompson.”
        “I love you, darling,” I cooed.
        “Good night, honey,” he said through a yawn, then mumbled, “May the Lord bless thee and keep thee. May the Lord make His face shine upon thee and give thee…” I think he fell asleep mid-benediction.
        “-Rest?” I completed.

        We slept cuddled together-it was a small bed anyway. (And yes, we did sleep on the bed upside-down.) Because we had taken marriage vows, no matter how unofficial or likely to be recognized, I felt no guilt..well, except once during the night when I woke suddenly, sitting bolt upright, and wondered What am I doing here? I glanced over at Nicholas. He was lying on his side. His body was uncovered, and the moons’ light was shining on his skin. I nestled up beside him, pulling the blankets back up over the both of us. He yawned and draped an arm around me, and I felt more warmth and security than any blanket could give me. I sighed with resigned pleasure and drifted back to sleep.

        I awoke once more during the night, to see him standing by the window. He had opened the curtains and was smoking a cigarette. His pants were on, but they were unfastened at the top.
        “What’s wrong?”
        “If I…” Nicholas began, calculating in his mind. “If I shot the gun out of Zazie’s hand…”
        “But he had two guns,” I reminded him.
        “Yeah, but maybe if I-”
        “Stop worrying yourself!”
        “Ah, Vash doesn’t need me. He’d have survived that situation himself somehow.” I could see it now-underneath that tough façade was a little boy who wanted his best friend back. “What am I going to do about Vash? They expect me to kill him.”
        “You won’t kill him,” I stated. “I know you won’t.”
        “I don’t think I can,” he agreed, then added sourly, “But then I’ll be the one who gets killed.” Before I could say anything, he continued, “And where does that leave you? What if I got you pregnant? People aren’t gonna believe we were married. They’ll treat you like dirt.”
        I had some arguments in mind, but they disappeared when I tried to speak.
        “I’m sorry, honey,” he apologized. “I shouldn’t have got you into this.”
        “Don’t be sorry. It’s what I wanted. It’s what I want-not being treated like dirt, of course! But being married to you, and having a baby. If it comes to that, that I’m a single mother, I won’t let them bring me down. I know who I am, they don’t.”
        He walked to the ashtray and crushed out his cigarette. “I just don’t know that we did the right thing.”
        I sat up. “Look, Nicholas, all I know is tonight you gave me pure and true love. You weren’t just using me.”
        He shook his head. “No, I would never abuse you like that. You’re my honey.”
        “We did what we could to make it official-after all, we’re in a ghost town iles from civilization. It’s not like we’re in New Vegas with those all-night wedding chapels.”
        He chuckled.
        “Now come back to bed!” I insisted. “It’s getting cold.” Before he could get back on the mattress, I added, “Oh, and we were sleeping nude, remember?”
        “I thought you said it was getting cold.”
        After undressing, he slid back under the covers, and leaned against my breasts. “Already I’m hooked on this-having you near.”
        I stroked his hair. “Yeah, me, too. Now I don’t want you worrying about anything else tonight, you hear? We’re in our own little world.”
        He drifted off quickly to sleep, but I heard him mumble, “I’m sorry, Vash.” I sighed. I guess I had wished my love could erase all his troubles and pain.

        I awoke, lying on my side. The first hint of dawn was dimly lighting the room. Nicholas was awake; he was smiling and caressed my cheek tenderly. I grabbed his hand as he reached for me again, squeezing it. His dark eyes were shining with love, so much so that I would have swooned had we not already been lying in bed.
        We needed no words. I kissed his ear, his cheek, and then his lips. He laughed in happiness.
        So we made love one more time. One last time. I was his, but he was also mine. “Oh, Milly, Milly, I don’t know how you do this to me.”
        As the sun reached its fullest level of brightness, he poured into me all his love and passion. We didn’t want it to end-afterwards, we just clung to each other fiercely, making each minute pass as slowly as possible through our own sheer willpower. Appreciating each moment of tenderness as though it was our last-as we were both well aware it could be. But we couldn’t stay this way forever-eventually, Nicholas eased out of my arms, and sat naked on the end of the bed. “I’ve got to go out there,” he mumbled. “This isn’t the kind of thing you can put off.”
        I sighed and searched for my borrowed pajamas.

Chapter 6: The Long Goodbye
I was still in my nightclothes, but Nicholas was getting ready to face the day. He put his shirt and jacket on. “Um, Nick, your pants-they’re not…” I began to advise.
        “Oh, yeah.” He zipped them up all the way.
        “You’ve got some hair sticking straight up.”
        He patted it down, then grabbed me by my upper arms.. “Ah, you’re gonna make a good wife, aren’t you, my honey?”
        “Yes, if you come back. You will come back, won’t you?”
        “I’ll try. And when I do, we’ll settle down. I guess go back to the orphanage and start a home there.”
        “Oh, I kinda like trailing along with Vash and Meryl,” I remarked.
        He shrugged. “Or we could do that. Whatever makes you happy, honey-that’s all I care about now.” I didn’t believe that I was all he cared about, but it was touching for him to say that, and I think he believed it at the moment. “Then there’s kids-you want kids?”
        I nodded.
        “Then we’ll have kids-as many as you want.” He was silent for a moment, leaning his hand against the doorframe. Then he laughed.
        “What?” I asked curiously.
        He shook his head. “I just never thought I’d be talking about having kids of my own.” He sighed, and the air turned somber. “I wish I could stay here with you all day.”
        “Then why don’t you?”
        “This is serious business. People’s lives are at stake here, not just mine.”
        “You’re not planning on getting yourself killed, are you, Mister-er, Nicholas?” I don’t believe I kept doing that. “You were suicidal yesterday. This isn’t suicide, is it?”
        “No, Milly, no,” he assured me, grabbing my shoulders again. “I want to come back to you. Even if I never patch things up with Vash, you’ve given me something to live for. I hope we’ll be together tonight-or even fifty years from now.”
        “I hope so, too, Nicholas.”
        “I can’t guarantee anything, though, honey. It’s in God’s hands now. Just remember Romans 8:28.”
        I drew a blank. “That’s not in the Begats, is it?”
        He laughed in appreciation of my more dizzy qualities, then said, “No, it’s ‘All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.’”
        “Milly, even if I don’t come back, somehow it will work out for the greater good.”
        My eyes were about to overflow. “I don’t see how.”
        “Sometimes we can’t see, but--.”
        “I guess we find out in Paradise if we don’t find out here,” I ventured. Some of the water escaped my eyes, and trickled down my cheeks.
        As he had last night, Nicholas caught my tears with his lips. “Don’t cry, honey. Be brave. I know you are.”
        “I love you, Nicholas. I don’t want you to leave me.”
        He held me. “I know. I love you, too. Since we first met.”
        I squeezed him tighter, at a loss for words.
        “Believe me, Milly, if there was any other way…” He broke off, and I pulled back to see tears on his face. As he had done for me, I kissed them away.
        He smiled. I smiled. We leaned our foreheads together for a moment.
        He grabbed his cross, carrying it over to the door and resting it in the frame. Then he clutched my arms. “C’mon, give me a kiss for luck.”
        I kissed him briefly.
        “And one to help get me through the day,” he requested. So I kissed him again. This time it was longer, more full of feeling.
        Then I squeezed him tightly, making the next kiss last as long as kisses possibly could.
        “What was that one for?” he asked, panting to catch his breath.
        “Mmm, just because,” I lied. In truth, it was for something to remember him by in case I never saw him again.
        He leaned in towards me again, this time giving me a kiss so soft and tender that it filled me with joy and sorrow and longing and contentment simultaneously. “That’s because I want you to always remember that I love you,” he explained.
        “Uh-huh,” I said, nodding stupidly.
        He put his shades on, took his cross to his shoulder, then walked across the threshold. Then he must have realized how dark everything seemed, for in an attempt to lighten the mood, he looked back at me, lowering his sunglasses so I could see his eyes. “Hey, Milly, wait here until I get back,” he said casually, then winked.
        “Okay,” I blurted, without really thinking about it.
        “Promise?” he asked, and I knew it wasn’t a casual request at all.
        I nodded solemnly. “I promise.”
        “I don’t want you getting caught in the crossfire,” he insisted. He tousled my hair, then tried to console me with these words: “Hey, one night together is better than never.”
        I watched him walk away.
        “Oh, please come back, Mr. Wolfwood,” I said to myself. “Nicholas.”

        I sat on the bed, my arms wrapped around my knees. I wanted to be able to bask in the afterglow of last night and that morning, but I was too worried that Nicholas would never return, and we would never make love again. With each burst of gunfire, I was aware that Nicholas could have just been shot-torn apart, even-and was now dying, if not already dead. So with each shot, I flinched. I wish I hadn’t vowed to obey him-maybe I could be out there doing something to protect him. But he in turn would feel responsible for my safety. I wondered-would it be his fault if I went out there and got killed? Or if I stayed here and did nothing, and he got killed, would it be my fault? But all I felt I could do was obey his request for me to stay put until he returned.

Meryl:     Looking around town, I located the building where Milly was at-Wolfwood’s motorcycle nearby gave it away. I found Milly, looking troubled as she sat in defensive posture on the mattress, mumbling something about “he” telling her to stay here. “Have you been here all night?” I wondered. Why was she still in her pajamas?
        “With Mr. Wolfwood?”
        “Milly,” I said earnestly. “Did you…” Here I faltered, trying to think of a euphemistic way to phrase things. “You know…”
        “Uh-huh,” she answered.
        “Go all the way?”
        “Yes, ma’am.”
        “WHAT?!” I shouted.
        “Please don’t yell.”
        I lowered my voice, but talked very rapidly. “Milly, I thought you were the most innocent person I’ve ever met. But then you go and sleep with a priest, of all people.” First, he used a cross-shaped weapon to murder a child. Then he struck the man that I love-I could still see the blood dripping from Vash’s mouth. And now that stupid priest had gone and deflowered my best friend! “How dare he call himself a man of God! If Vash won’t belt him one, I will!”
        “Shut up!” Milly shrieked at the top of her lungs. I was stunned. She had never spoken to me in such a manner. “You wouldn’t understand-you wouldn’t even try to understand!” I didn’t know her anymore. She would never be the same-I had heard horror stories of perfectly sweet maidens developing nasty temperaments upon losing their virginity. “He needs me.”
        “They all say that. Were you rewarding him for what he did in Keybos?”
        “He’s a good man, Meryl!” She brought up a few incidents that proved Wolfwood’s heart of gold.
        I was reluctant to forgive him. “But he seduced you.”
        She looked up at me. “No! It was what both of us wanted! We love each other.”
        “Milly, I’m just worried your reputation could be ruined because of this.”
        “He’s my husband,” she revealed.
        I nearly went into shock. “How did you get married in the middle of nowhere? There’s no preacher-” I stopped myself. “I see..he told you that since he was a priest, he could marry him and you himself.”
        “No, I told him. If there’s anyone to blame for letting things go as far as they did, it’s me.”
        “Oh, Milly, how could you be so foolish! I’m sure that’s not legal! And no one’s going to believe you’re married anyway!”
        She burst into tears. And I recognized the Milly I had always known-Wolfwood hadn’t taken her from me. Milly would always be Milly, even if she wasn’t a maiden anymore.
        I rushed to her, hugging her shoulders. “Oh, Milly, don’t cry! I’m sorry. You’re a sweetheart. You’re right. I forgot about all the brave and nice things Mr. Wolfwood has done. I know you love him. I’m sorry.”
        “But if our wedding’s invalid, then all we did last night…” She sniffed. “…Was spend the night in sin! But we love each other-we pledged our love and commitment to each other.”
        “Well, if both of you really meant those vows…” I began hesitantly, then shrugged.
        “He’s gonna die today,” she whimpered, as I sat down beside her.
        “Didn’t you hear the gunfire?”
        “Yes, but, Milly-both Vash and Mr. Wolfwood have been in gunfights before. They’ve always come through okay.”

Milly:     Meryl and I had said everything we could say at the moment, and she was merely keeping me silent company. She wanted to go out and check on Vash and Nicholas, although she didn’t say so. She didn’t want to leave me, although she was worried about her man. As I was about mine.
        Sometimes there is nothing you can do but pray.
        I noticed I hadn’t heard any gunfire in awhile.
        Then we heard Vash out in the street, shouting Meryl’s name frantically.
        Meryl opened the door. “Vash! I’m right here!”
        “Could you..could you come help me with something?” His voice was high-strung. He came to the door, glancing in. His face was red, as though he’d been crying. He looked at me briefly, and I was embarrassed that I was still not dressed at this time of day. But more strongly I felt dread, because I had a feeling that I knew what Vash was so upset about.
        Meryl agreed to go with him, and I was alone again.

Meryl:     Once outside and several feet away from the house where Milly remained, Vash turned to me and grasped my upper arm with one hand. His other hand was holding some canvas and black rope-the cover to Wolfwood’s cross, I realized. Vash looked at me with an expression of sadness and sincerity. “Meryl, Nicholas is..” I noted the oddity of him calling the priest by his first name instead of his last. “He’s dead.”
        I gasped.
        He started walking, and I followed. “I need to retrieve his cross. Later, he’ll have to be moved so we can bury him.”
        I followed, and we soon came to a trail of pools of blood. I realized it was Wolfwood’s life blood spilled upon the ground. I choked back the urge to vomit.
        Vash held out his flesh arm, and I wrapped myself around it for support. “Close your eyes; I’ll lead the way,” he suggested.
        “Did he kill himself?” I wondered.
        “Not exactly,” Vash replied enigmatically. “He died a hero, as far as I’m concerned.”
        After a minute or two, I felt our path darken, and the surface under my feet had changed. We had entered a building. I opened my eyes and saw we were in a church. Down the aisle were more pools of blood. Wolfwood was crumpled on the floor, and his cross had fallen over. His face looked bruised and battered. Vash recounted the story of the last time he saw his friend alive. “…When I came to the church, I heard Wolfwood praying. Talking to God. I didn’t want to interrupt him, so I stayed right outside the door. Then he stopped talking. I came in, and found him in a kneeling position. He died like that-kneeling.”
        “I think you should know something,” I said, facing in the direction of the door. “Milly and Mr. Wolfwood became lovers last night. She seems to think they’re married.”
        “Then the cross belongs to her,” Vash stated, as though not surprised by my news. “Can you help me carry it?”
        “I’m afraid I’ll step in a puddle of blood.”
        “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to put you through this, but there’s no one else in town.”
        I nodded grimly. “I know. I’ll do my best.” Suddenly, I could hold it back no more. I vomited on the church’s lovely carpet.
        “Are you all right?” Vash asked.
        “I threw up in a church,” I fretted. “I’m sorry, God.”
        “I’m sure, given the circumstances, that He’ll forgive you.”
        “There’s been so much death and craziness lately. I’m not used to it,” I rambled through tears. “ I lived a pretty sheltered life growing up. My biggest problem was not always getting along with my Mom. Now the whole world seems to be falling apart. And if it’s like that for me, I can’t imagine what it’s like for you.”
        “It’s not easy,” he confessed. “But somehow I manage. I hate to tell Milly.”
        “She knows-she told me he was going to die today. Oh, you’re right; it still will be hard to tell her.”
        We hugged consolingly. “Hey, about your handling things,” Vash began softly. “I think you’re being really strong.”

Milly:     I don’t know how long it was-less than an hour, I think-Meryl and Vash came back, sharing the load of Nicholas’ cross, which they brought in and leaned against the wall. I stood up, knowing what this meant, but I had to hear it for myself.
        Vash, his sunglasses covering his eyes, laid a hand on my shoulder and said, without much expression, “I’m sorry, Milly. More than you know.” Then he marched outside.
        Frantically, I glanced at Meryl, whose face was pale. “Meryl…?” I squealed.
        She nodded grimly, closing her eyes. “Yes, he’s dead, Milly. I’m sorry.”
        Last night and this morning, we had talked about him possibly dying, but it hadn’t prepared me in the slightest for his actual death. I burst into tears. Meryl tried to offer me a consoling touch, but I turned my back on her and sank to the floor, resting my head on the mattress where Nicholas and I had made love. I cried harder than I’ve ever cried before or cried since. I sobbed and sobbed, and wailed and shrieked, until my supply of tears was exhausted…for the time being.

        After awhile, my tears chased even Meryl from the room, and she went outside. When my wailing had subsided, I heard the door open and heard the clunking of Vash’s boots. He sat down beside me on the floor, and was silent.
        After a few minutes, he put his arms around me and drew me in. I rested my head against his chest. “Mister Wolf-, um, Nicholas…” I began, but cried again. Vash stroked my hair, then lightly kissed the top of my head. “We took vows…”
        “Yes, I know. Meryl told me.”
        “I think-I think you should know what he told me yesterday.” He didn’t reply, so I continued on. “The Gung-Ho Guns were trying to force his hand. For a long time now. Only he tried to fight back whenever he could. But they were threatening the orphanage.” I sniffed back some mucus.
        “That does explain some things,” he said simply.
        “They wanted him to kill you,” I continued. I looked into my friend’s eyes. “He never wanted to kill you, Mr. Vash.”
        He patted my arm. “I know.”
        “Where did you find him?” I asked. “Was he already dead? Was he dying?”
        In a steady, unemotional tone, Vash explained about trailing Nicholas to the church. He finished with an odd note. “It’s my fault, Milly,” he confessed in a broken voice.
        “How is it your fault?” I wondered disbelievingly.
        “Maybe I shouldn’t have waited for him to finish praying. I might have been able to help him.”
        I looked down at the ground. “Maybe he knew it was too late for him anyway. That’s why he went to the church instead of asking for help. You know it’s not your fault.”
        “There’s one other thing, Milly,” he continued, twirling a strand of my hair around his finger. “What I heard him say-I think he renounced his lifestyle and took up mine in the end. What I mean is, I think he died because he didn’t finish off his opponent when he had the chance.”
        “It’s a good way of life,” I said weakly.
        “One I taught him at the wrong time. I wished he had let Zazie kill me instead of killing Zazie. Now I almost wish he had killed his opponent while he had the chance, instead of getting k--” He slapped his forehead. “Oh, that’s not right! I wish there were a way everyone could have survived.” He sighed. “I wonder why you’re not mad at me. If I hadn’t come down so hard on him in Keybos…”
        “I can see why I should be mad at you, Mr. Vash,” I said carefully. “But somehow, I’m just sad for you and I. Anyway, you didn’t force Nicholas to take that stand. It was his choice.”
        He looked at me, an earnest expression in his eyes. “When you talked last night, did he mention anything about following my example?”
        “He was sorry he shot Zazie too soon, without seeing what he was going to do. He did wonder if maybe you were right. And he was upset he lost your friendship.”
        Vash shook his head. “He never lost that. He knew that today, too. We parted on good terms.”
        “I’m glad. You really meant a lot to him, Mr. Vash. He loved you.” I blushed. “He, um, told me not to tell you that.”
        I meant it in consolation, but tears ran once again out of Vash’s eyes. “Don’t you see-he ended up getting killed because he was trying to please me!” he shouted. “Why do I kill everyone I love?”
        He was silent, stewing for a few moments. Finally, I spoke, “You mentioned he confessed his sins before God.”
        “Yeah. He was really quite honest and open with God. Like he was talking to a human that was right there.”
        “That means Jesus has covered his sins. He’s not really gone forever. He’s in Paradise now. And someday we’ll be able to see him again.”
        Vash laughed a little. “I wonder how soon that’ll be for me. The way things are going-maybe real soon. Then again, I could come through that alright and live for years and years-far longer than you can imagine.”
        I was puzzled. I did not know yet of his alien life span. “What do you mean by that?”
        His lips curled slightly, and he changed the subject, placing his hands on my shoulders. “You know, Milly, no matter what anyone’s gonna say, I now think of you as Mrs. Wolfwood.”
        I smiled, feeling hopeful.
        “That means what he has goes to you,” Vash continued. “The cross is now yours.”
        “It means a lot to me. It really does.”
        “You’ve told me things I should know about Wolfwood. Now let me tell you something. Awhile back, shortly after we left Karsted City, Wolfwood and I were sharing a hotel room. I woke up first, and went over to shake him awake. He looks up at me, looking disappointed. ‘Oh, it’s you,’ he said.
        “‘Well, who would you rather have me be?’ I demanded.
        “He just smiled sheepishly and said, ‘Milly. Someday I think I’d like to wake up and find her beside me.’ Then he put his head back down on the pillow.
        “I acted shocked, like you’re supposed to be a priest and you’re lusting after a girl and it’s my duty to defend the virtue of the Insurance Girls who have been my companions in so many adventures.
        “He hit me off the side of the head. ‘I didn’t mean a cheap tryst, you knucklehead! I mean that I love her!’ At which point, he froze because he knew he said too much. Man, he had to make all sorts of threats to get me to keep quiet!”
        Vash and I both laughed about that, then grew silent once more. A large tear leaked from one of his eyes. After a minute or two, he struggled to his feet. “Sorry, Milly. I gotta go start digging a grave.”
        I cried again. Vash patted my hair. “I’ll-I’ll go get Meryl,” he reassured me, sounding like he needed some more reassurance himself.

Meryl:     I wandered out of Milly’s room now and then, just to get a breath of fresh air. I saw Vash standing outside with a partially eaten, browning piece of fruit. “Where’d you get the apple?” I asked curiously.
        “I found it at the site where Wolfwood was shot,” he said with a shrug. “I traced his blood trail to an alley back there.” Suddenly, he tossed the apple into the air, drawing his gun and shooting it apart.

Meryl:    It was getting dark when I left Milly again to check on Vash at the church. As I drew nearer, the lights of the churchyard came on. Vash somberly walked out, carrying Wolfwood in his arms. He carefully placed his dead friend down at the edge of the church’s graveyard, near a newly dug, relatively shallow grave. A wooden cross between four and five feet tall was lying on the ground nearby. I saw that on it Vash had carved Wolfwood’s name.
        “Where’d you get that cross?” I asked.
        “It was in the supply room in the church,” he reminded me. “The congregation won’t be needing it anymore.”
        “Yeah, I guess not.”
        Vash sighed. “Well..it’s time. Go get Milly.”

Chapter 7: Funeral By Night
Milly:     Meryl walked in. “Milly, um, you’ve got to start getting ready for the funeral.”
        I nodded glumly. I didn’t really want to go, but I had to-I was his widow. But I didn’t want to see his dead body. I just wanted to run away.
        “Do you want me to bring you a fresh change of clothes?”
        “Guess,” I muttered, meaning, “I guess so.”
        She nodded and left.
        I sat sulking a moment longer, the suddenly had an idea. I walked into the back room and pulled out the green dress that I had tried on yesterday. I smiled wistfully as I remembered the spark in Nicholas’ eyes when he had seen me in it. “Yes, I shall wear this.”
        After I dressed, I raided the house for a couple of other things I wanted to bring with me to the funeral. One was Nicholas’ Bible. Like any Bible reader, he had highlighted some verses. Oddly, he kept marking a verse repeated in Judges: “In those days Israel did not have a king, so everyone did what seemed right.” I guess the history of the book of Judges seemed rather like our planet, with everyone forced to take the law into their own hands and make up their own justice.
        I remembered some verses I memorized as a child, and thumbed past the book of Judges to find them.
        Meryl peered in. “Milly, we’re ready. Do you want to see him before--?” She put my now unneeded everyday clothes down on the bed.
        I looked up from the floor and nodded, putting the Bible’s ribbon on one page, and folding some other pages in to mark the place of a couple of other verses. I took the book with me.
        “That’s a pretty dress, Milly,” Meryl remarked. “Where did you get it?”
        I jerked a thumb towards the house and the unknown girl’s bedroom. “Back.”
        Meryl walked with me to the church yard. The night sky was ink black, and the wind blew in cold, howling gusts. My hair was tossed in every direction, and my many layers of clothing could not keep me from shivering. Had it been this cold last night? We hadn’t felt it.
        I suppose you could call the weather bad or dreadful or nasty, but I appreciated it. It was as if God Himself were mourning. Or as if the spirit world were not far away.
        I could sense rather than see Vash look up at me, surprised at my outfit.
        Beside the grave he had dug lay Nicholas’ body. Holding my hands to my mouth, as though in shock, I collapsed into a kneeling position beside it. His complexion was gray; his face was scratched and bruised and raw in some places, but he did not look too different from what he had looked like in life. Those scars on his face would never get a chance to heal. I wanted to shout out, “Who did this?” Was it that Chapel person Nicholas had talked about, or did he have help? At the moment, I felt like I could successfully take them on, fueled by my grief and anger.
        Placing the Bible aside on the ground, I reached out a shaking hand to touch Nicholas’ face. There was no warmth from his skin. I put my hand over his heart; I could no longer feel it beat. No blood coursed through his veins. No breath escaped his lips. His eyes were closed-I could not gaze into them one more time. I refrained from kissing him-I knew his lips would be cold and unresponsive. I would rather have our last kiss be that tender one, when he told me, “That’s because I want you to always remember that I love you.”
        “Nicholas,” I whispered. “My honey.” I pulled back his bloody jacket and shirt, despite Meryl’s warning of, “Milly, don’t!”, and gazed upon the gaping hole a bullet had left in his side. My hand last night had caressed that very spot. I shuddered. Fresh tears ran down my cheeks, but I kept myself from sobbing.
        I retrieved a pair of scissors and an envelope. “Milly-” Meryl began again, but Vash hushed her. I cut off a lock from my husband’s bangs, then placed it in the envelope.
        “A keepsake,” I explained to Meryl. She nodded.
        I also snipped a button off of his jacket. Meryl didn’t ask about that-she remembered the high school custom of a girl asking a guy she was sweet on for a button off of his clothes. The lock of hair…and the button…I just wanted something to hold on to. Something to remind me that Nicholas had indeed once walked this planet and I hadn’t merely dreamed him up.
        Vash put the body in the grave. We then looked at him expectantly, as though he himself were a priest and must preside over the burial. “I, uh, well,” he began. “Nicholas D. Wolfwood was a man who, ever since I’ve known him-and before-fought to protect the helpless. I didn’t tell him this, but he was my best friend. And, well..now…?” He barely said the last word, then stopped. His fists clenched and his face reddened, and then his rage exploded. “Why, God?” he shouted to the sky. “Why’d you have to take him, too? Are the girls next? Must I be alone forever? Why does this keep happening to me? I don’t deserve this!”
        I must admit, I was afraid of him at that moment, and looked aside-only to find my gaze upon my Nicholas, lying in the grave. I shut my eyes, but Vash had stopped screaming. I saw Meryl holding him from behind while he sobbed quietly. I realized in awe that the love of friendship Vash felt for Nicholas-and his love for Vash-rivaled our own romantic love.
        After regaining his composure, Vash looked at me. “I’m sorry, Milly.”
        “Okay,” I squeaked meekly.
        “I shouldn’t blame God, I guess. There’s someone else to blame. You, um, had some verses you wanted me to read?”
        I handed him the Bible, pointing to one page. “Here, read these two verses. Matthew 10: 38 and 39.”
        “‘Whoever is not willing to carry the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who try to hold on to their lives will give up true life. Those who give up their lives for me will hold on to true life.’”
        “He was willing to carry the cross, you know,” I pointed out. “And read these verses. John 11: 25-26.”
        “‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will have life even if they die. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’”
        “Believers will be redeemed in the end,” Vash remarked, closing the Bible and handed it back to me, saying, “I like those verses, Milly. I hope with all my heart they’re true.”
        It had been an ad-libbed funeral. Appropriate enough, considering it followed an ad-libbed wedding.
        “Throw some dirt in the grave, Milly,” Meryl encouraged. “You’re his widow.” I perked up-it was the first time she acknowledged that Nicholas’ and my vows were legitimate. I picked up a handful of dirt from the ground surrounding my beloved’s grave. I didn’t like the finality of it all, not when we all believed in the afterlife. Most of the sand sifted through my fingers, back to the ground around me instead of into the grave. I just knelt there contemplating death and whether it is forever. And thinking of Nicholas, my poor Nicholas. His body, which should have been good for so much more love, would rot. Finally, bursting into tears yet again, I threw a few grains of sand into the hole, like an angry person throwing a vase. No, death wasn’t forever, but I realized it may be several years-several decades, even-before I would again see him smiling at me. And would it be the same?

Meryl:     Weeping, Milly ran away-well, at first, she crawled, until she managed to get to her feet. Then she ran, back towards the place she and Wolfwood had shared for one night. “Maybe I shouldn’t have asked her to throw the dirt,” I fretted. I glanced at Vash. One hand covered his eyes, the other held another fistful of dirt. He poured it into the grave, then looked at me pointedly.
        I realized he wanted me to place a handful in the grave as well. But Milly was Wolfwood’s lover, and Vash was his best friend-what connection did I have to him? But Vash seemed to think that I should. I scooped up some dirt, and scattered it over the fallen man’s chest.
        I felt a sharp pang of grief. Wolfwood. What a strange man. When I first met him, I thought he was absurd and full of contradictions-and also the perfect playmate for Vash.
        I’ll say this for him-he had indeed often risked his life on others’ behalf. Milly was right to remind me of that-it had gotten so all I could see was him taking Bete down. I had forgotten he was my friend.
        Wolfwood. Gallant yet, well, comical. And full of life. I didn’t foresee such a tragic ending so soon. I didn’t expect to see him lying cold and still while an angst-ridden Vash shoveled dirt on to him. I didn’t realize I would cry.
        In the windy night, Vash tearfully spoke to the deceased priest. “I’m sorry I’m so sorry. I love you, buddy.”
        “Vash, are you okay?” I asked.
        “I saw the closest thing I had to a home crash. A young man who hadn’t had a chance to live took bullets for me. Now I’ve lost my best friend to a bloody death, but other than that..” He paused from his digging, smiling without mirth, “Yeah, I’m fine.”
        “Do you need help?”
        “No-I’m a natural born gravedigger! In fact, this is my second one today! Maybe when this is all over and I can finally settle down, I’ll take this up as my profession.”
        “Second one today? Oh, you mean Cain.” He had told me about the long-range gunner earlier that day.
        “I understand now why Cain shot himself. You go against their will, and they’ll punish you.”
        He continued on, oblivious to my question. “Zazie may have been forced to shoot us after all.”
        “You think so?” I wondered if he were just rationalizing the actions of his friend, more beloved now that he was dead.
        “I guess we’ll never know.” He paused digging and speaking for a moment, then continued. “Wolfwood wasn’t as easy for them to manipulate as they thought. He fought back one too many times, and now he’s dead.”
        “Are you always going to be so vague? I’m a grown woman, I-”
        “Do you know what you can do to help me?” he broke in. “Look in the kitchens around here and see if you can find some beer or whisky or something with a punch.”
        With reluctance, I nodded. I knew just where to find some wine-I had seen a bottle in the home in which Milly and I were staying. I didn’t like Vash drinking, but I didn’t think it the appropriate time to nag him about it.
        I fetched the bottle and a corkscrew for him. Ceremoniously, he popped open the bottle, pouring a little into the grave. “Here’s to you, Nicholas D. Wolfwood,” he said, then took a swig himself. “May there never be any pain for you again.”
        “There’s another shovel back in the place I’m staying at,” I mentioned. “I’ll go get that and help you.”
        “Yeah, whatever,” he said, already sounding drunk.
        I came back with the extra shovel and helped fill in the grave. We worked quietly for awhile-the body itself was covered up by the time Vash broke the silence, though the hole was not filled in. “How did I meet Wolfwood?”
        “On a bus,” I reminded him.
        “Oh, yeah! I couldn’t remember. All I remember is him going out with me to face those machines. I was so impressed he was willing to lay his life on the line-”
        “I think he was impressed with you, too.”
        “Maybe. I guess that’s why we took to each other. We fought together against things like injustice. But now…” He paused from shoveling. “I guess I’m just meant to walk alone.”
        “Vash, you are not meant to walk alone!” I insisted. “I’ll walk with you.” This confession just tumbled out.
        Fortunately or unfortunately, the big lunkhead didn’t recognize it as a statement of love. “You know you and Milly are just insurance workers and I’m just your case,” he mumbled.
        I stepped closer to him and poked his shoulder with my finger. “Vash, if you think after all this time that’s all you are to us, you are wrong! We like you, and we care about what happens to you!”
        He smiled in a bittersweet manner. “Thanks, Meryl. I care about what happens to you, too.”
        “Good,” I said, but there was no way I would allow myself to think of that as a declaration of love on his behalf.
        We turned back to the task of filling in our friend’s grave.

Chapter 8: Aching Arms
Milly:     Already it was back to sharing a room with Meryl, as though I still were just a girl who’d never been kissed. Sharing a room, but sleeping in a cold bed.
        Meryl sensed my anguish-of course, she knew about it. She reached down beside her bed and picked up a large, plush, black cat. “I found this in the closet.” She tossed it to me. “You want it?”
        I held it for a moment, then nodded. “For tonight.” I lay down, clutching the stuffed animal tightly, dampening its fake fur with quiet tears.

Meryl:     I couldn’t get to sleep. Milly kept on whimpering or sobbing softly. At times, my heart went out to her, at other times, I was just plain annoyed.
        Finally, sitting up in bed, I asked, “Do you want to talk?”
        “I don’t know!” she wailed. She clammed up for a moment or two, then continued, with speech still broken by sobs, “I must’ve had the shortest marriage ever!”
        I thought a moment, then said, “There’s many people out there with many different stories. I’m sure someone out there has had shorter.” I snapped my fingers. “Oh, yeah! I remember now! This groom had a past with an outlaw gang, and when he and his bride stepped out of the church, they shot him down.”
        She looked at me with incredulous rage. “That’s supposed to make me feel better?”
        “Uh…oops, no! Sorry!” I apologized timidly.
        “You didn’t even like him,” she complained.
        “I liked Mr. Wolfwood,” I insisted. “Really I did! I was just mad at him for a little while.”
        She sat up, clutching the stuffed cat fiercely.
        “I cried, too,” I pointed out. “I cried when you first cried, only you didn’t see. And I cried when we buried him. And I cried in the church when Vash brought me there to retrieve the cross.”
        Her face softened. She looked confused, her mouth hanging open a little. I got up and sat down beside her. “Remember when he left that time at Demislad?” I asked. “I knew you were upset, and I told you all of life’s journeys come with meetings, partings, and reunions.”
        “Reunions,” she breathed.
        “You thought you’d never see him again that time, but you did,” I reminded her. “And today you pointed out those verses to Vash about the afterlife. Surely you believe this is only a temporary parting.”
        She smiled wistfully. “And at the next reunion, we won’t ever part again!”
        I put an arm around her, encouraging her by squeezing her.
        “But how long, Meryl? How long do I have to wait?”
        “I don’t know.”
        “That time in the caravan, I kept hearing his voice. I kept seeing him out of the corner of my eye. But he wasn’t there. He had left. I felt so empty. I know I’m gonna feel like that this time, too.”
        “You loved him that early on, huh?”
        “Meryl, before I met him, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I was happy. How come now that he’s come and gone, I can’t be like that again?”
        I was silent for a few seconds, then said carefully, “When some people come into your life, they add something special to it. You feel that loss regardless of how happy you were before that person came.”
        “Yeah,” she said softly. “I suppose I should be glad to have the time I did.”
        I sighed, as if to punctuate her remark.
        Down in the street below our window, I could hear Vash singing drunkenly. I couldn’t understand the words except something about being alone.
        I got up and opened the window, leaning out. “Vash, you don’t have to be alone tonight. Come up here with us. You can sleep on the floor.”
        He hiccuped, then asked, “Can I sleep in your bed?” Before I could agree to sleep on the floor myself, he clarified, “With you?”
        “Harumph!” I glanced around quickly for something to throw at him, but didn’t see anything. Inside, however, my heart was beating faster. He had actually come on to me! I wasn’t supposed to like it, but I did.
        He took another swig from the bottle of wine.
        “Vash, don’t drink that whole thing.” He lifted the bottle to his lips again, determined to ignore me. “It’s suicide,” I warned.
        He hurriedly lowered the bottle. He was very much against suicide. I saw the liquid swish around in the bottle, and I realized he wasn’t as drunk as he seemed to think he was.
        “Let me have some.” It was Milly, leaning up in bed. “I’ll never get to sleep unless I have some,” she argued.
        I sighed. “Milly, I do not want to see you start drinking yourself to sleep every night.”
        “Just tonight. Please, Meryl.”
        I looked back out the window. “Vash, come up here-and bring the wine with you,” I ordered.
        “Yes, ma’am.”
        So Milly got to sleep. Vash slept on the floor, between our beds. And I was the one left blinking into the darkness, thinking about some wayward priest I used to know.

Milly:     The next morning, I returned to the room Nicholas and I had shared, sitting on a chair that I had positioned to face towards the bed. I felt a bit like I had had a one night stand, although it was more truly being widowed. Yet my biggest regret was that I couldn’t have been with him when he died. He died cold and alone. I could have held him in my arms, and sang or whispered to him. Eased his journey to the other side. Such a short, sad life he had. I hoped our time together was some consolation to him.
        Heloise believed everyone suffers more or less equally in life. I didn’t like to think contrary to my beloved sister, but I didn’t know about that. How come I was blessed with a large, loving family, and he grew up without anyone to go to for a hug or to tell him he was special and that he was loved? It made me sad to think of it. I could have given him a happy life and made up for the bad times, but he didn’t get a chance to live.
        Maybe..maybe, I thought, it was because he did suffer so much in life that God had mercy on him and took him to Paradise early.

Insurance Girls Tell All - Part 2

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