1. Off the Beaten Path
    Off the Beaten Path
    By Audrey Hirshberg
If not for the jealousy, she would have felt bad for them both. The woman, she could tell, didn't really deserve the punishment she had been given secondhand from the man, whose smile would forever be marred by the pain and burden of knowing that he would be a stifling weight on his bride ‘til death did they part. Nonetheless she was jealous of them, even with his crippled, now useless leg, and the desolate life that awaited them because even if it was a desolate life and one marked by hardship, it would be a life that they would share together; a life they had sacrificed everything for, and what could be more beautiful than that?
 
She watched as the young man struggled to his feet and struggled longer still to smile as brightly as he had once before with such ease and freedom that it had seemed only flippant to her. She watched as he leaned heavily against the railing of the porch, limping and stumbling as he dragged his foot after him. The Doctor had done his best - or so she had been told. But she knew in the eyes of the men who had told her - of his friends and her allies - that this was far from the truth. Once bitten, no one could escape Death. Not here in these lonely deserts and dry valleys. They were too far removed from the East, with its structured ways and intellectual pursuits, and far too close with the West to risk going into any one of the metropolitans for some exotic medicine; whether he liked it or not, he’d be stuck lame and a liability. So it had been decreed by the West, and so it would remain.
 
She supposed the only poultice that could be given was one of pity and sympathy on their part and regret on his for agreeing to go into town that hot afternoon. Perhaps some guilt and shame on her part too. But pity for sure for his squandered youth and spoiled potential.
 
The man fought his way from the shade of the porch and out into the bright light as hooves scattered and tore at the grass. He looked up at the one who had ruined him for the rest of his life, his silhouette blocking out the sun as they stared at one another. A breeze whispered through the valley, and all present held their breath - the two young women standing witness, the flowers, trees, birds, all signs of life - until the ruined man offered the other a smile and his hand.
 
Eve still didn't like him. As they left the valley, she could still feel the odd spike of annoyance for his forgiving nature. How could he not begrudge? How was it that he felt no resentment towards the one who had sent him to his desolation? Wasn’t he human too and so was prone to human fallacy?
 
However: though she felt this, she also couldn't help but admit - grudgingly so - that while he still irritated her, she also felt something she had never before felt for that stupid fool. And perhaps that would be enough for the both of them.  
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