He stared out the lone window in the storeroom, arms wrapped around himself to ward off a singular chill. The snows last month had come early even for this altitude, the white blanket stretching as far as the eye could see, burying low lying bushes and topping tree branches, causing some to sag under the weight. Leaden skies lent to the monochrome, broken only by the utilitarian brown or grey of the well and outbuildings, or a verdant patch of conifer uncovered by a breeze just recently ebbing after several days. The entire scene was reminiscent of some Currier and Ives lithographs he saw displayed somewhere a year or two ago, but although beautiful, reminded only of an unwanted and too lengthy sojourn with strangers. Indeed, notwithstanding the voices in the next room, he felt friendless – and alone.
Entranced as he was by the landscape before him, its very desolation utterly increased his own feeling of foreboding. The solitude he sometimes sought to reflect and plan now abundant, seemed not worth having. The usual garrulousness silenced, he stood – lost.
His reverie broken, he glanced at the man bundled with every warm cloth imaginable, lain on the single bunk brought in from the other room just yesterday, after a day prone on a host of sacks of grain – at once insulating, but deemed too rough for a sick man.
He strode quickly, quietly, to the bedside. Touching a hand lightly to flushed skin, he bit his lower lip in frustration, but did not react to the pinch; brushed damp blond curls from the brow. How many times had the scenario played itself out? Two days now…
His charge slept most of that time, waking ever so briefly due to cough, or necessity. Getting water into him had proven difficult, whiskey even more so. But the caregiver persevered and breathed success at small victories – however fleeting they seemed.
He himself did not rest, not really. He had tried, laying himself next to the sick one, both seeking and hoping to add bodily warmth. Woken by one of his partner's febrile fits, or from cramping in a bed barely big enough for one, he stole an hour or two on the small mountain of grain sacks, burrowing beneath the top ones for warmness, resting soundly but for a short time before his worry woke him.
He tried distraction, but found no solace in his book. Normally longing for poker, the game being played on the other side of the door held no attraction. Gold he might recoup from their losses, held little appeal. Indeed, he was fighting valiantly for what he valued most in the world, hoping for the best – against what seemed increasing odds that he held a losing hand.
Pneumonia? The cough might indicate that; an increased heartbeat – who knew? Grippe? Easier to deal with, but still potentially bad. And nothing definitive to do for either, except watch, and wait.
A soft knock. With another glance at his partner, he went to open the door, just a crack.
Sotte voce, "Yeah?"
Clarence was in a jolly mood, quite a change for a man once thought dead. "You hungry?"
The old man continued, his voice singsong. "Ya sure? That young'un there's a crack hunter, like your partner. Shot hisself a good-sized turkey. It's Thanksgiving, ya know."
Like my partner? A swallow. "Is it…? I'm sure. Thanks."
"Okay." An uncomfortable pause. "How is he?"
"No change. I'm gonna…" He motioned back into the store room.
A nod, of acceptance, Clarence wishing he could do more. "Okay."
The dark-haired man started to close the door.
Inquisitive and rueful brown eyes regarded the speaker.
"Let me examine him again." He moved to grab a medical bag.
Softly, but firmly, "No." Still, it was an offer, perhaps even kind-hearted. "Thanks."
He shut the door without a sound. Glanced at his partner – still asleep. A smile. "Geez, you can sleep through anything."
He paced, and stopped when too many floorboards groaned. An annoying sound most times, it now was of peculiar comfort, albeit detrimental to the repose of the patient.
Back at the window, he surveyed the scene – again. Nothing had changed from so many minutes before, nor had it the time before that.
Thanksgiving? Could it really be? That meant almost two months thus far in the high country, with a winter's worth to go. Perhaps spring would come early? Daytime sun would go a long way toward thawing out the landscape, and relative nighttime coolness and even a breeze might help dry out the ground so the horses had better footing to escape this place.
The horses. That a sturdy barn sheltered them gave him peace of mind, and his turn to tend them was normally an excuse to flee the company of too many. However, these few days the others excused him that task, given as how another busied him.
He peered once again at the bunk. The blond man now slept more soundly than he had last night, but was still feverish. Perhaps the dark-haired one would borrow the tube from the fella who called himself a doctor. Maybe there was something to this heartbeat theory after all. If so, he hoped it had slowed a bit. It had been a little fast, maybe…
What was that? Another Thanksgiving, long ago? The first or second in that place?
"But I HAVE to stay with him! He'll want me when he wakes up."
"Son, you'll be better off keeping your distance. He's very sick. We don't want you catching what he's got."
He remembered being defiant, or at least as much as one could be when pleading.
"I'm staying with him. I'll take care of him, like he done for me last time; like we used to do when either of us was sick."
Kindly eyes. "I know you two are close, and kin. But you're too young to make that decision."
"I'm NOT too young – I'm ELEVEN!"
A sad smile. "You're right, son. That is getting on." A thoughtful pause. "And that means he's younger."
"Uh huh. Nine."
A knowing nod. "Young enough probably to still want a familiar face nearby when he wakes up."
"All right. But you'll have to keep a close eye on him, and report to me or whoever's here whenever there's a change."
Seriously, "Yes, sir. I will."
"Then, so be it. I'll hold you honor-bound by that promise."
He focused on the snow, whispered to himself, "Honor-bound – still." His gaze turned toward the bunk. A smile – it fit.
Drowsily, "Can ya turn? You're layin' on my arm, and I can't feel it."
"Kid?!" Heyes bolted upright.
"Sorry." The dark-haired man felt Curry's brow. "You're cooler."
"Uh huh. Damn!"
"My arm has that needles and pins feelin'."
"You're getting the feeling back. It'll be good as new in a few minutes."
"I know." Blue eyes met brown. "What?"
Heyes yawned as he rose, wiping sleep from his eyes. "Let me get ya some coffee and whiskey from the other room."
Kid also yawned, pulling himself into a half-sitting position. "Okay." He waited the short time it took his partner to return, then took the proffered cup. Sipping at it over a long minute, he felt warmer. Finishing, he handed the mug back to Heyes, who hovered like a mother hen.
"How do ya feel?"
Kid yawned again. "Got a headache, and tired…"
Heyes smiled and again felt his partner's brow, to reassure himself. "You're a lot cooler. But ya still need to rest." He set about rearranging Curry's thick sheepskin coat on top of him, followed by the various quilts and blankets, finishing with appropriate tucking to keep out the chill. "Get some sleep."
Heyes sat on the edge of the bunk, watching the rise and fall of his partner's chest, amazed still at the boyish face, the seemingly guileless expression – although that caterpillar would have to go. He chuckled at the thought.
He rose, strode to the window, solemnly acknowledged the snow scape.
Posts : 812 Join date : 2013-09-08 Age : 64 Location : Seattle
Subject: Re: Honor Bound Mon Sep 16, 2013 11:58 am
Nice inner dialogue as Heyes dealt with the thought of losing "what he valued most in the world", the Kid. Memories of promises made to others, as well as to himself it seems, has made him "honor bound" to care for his partner since childhood. He will not give up his vigil: keeping Kid bundled with "every warm cloth imaginable", persevering at trying to get water down him with difficulty, rebuffing attempts by the fake doc to treat him, checking his temperature religiously. You have painted a lovely picture of Heyes devotion and concern for his best friend, finishing the story with his relief at Kid's recovery and a thankful chuckle. Sweet.
Posts : 151 Join date : 2016-12-10 Location : The Sonoran Desert
Subject: Re: Honor Bound Sun Jan 22, 2017 10:35 pm
Nice piece. Like the tie into when they were younger.