“Hmm? What about?”
“Well, here it is; March 6th; It's your birthday. I kinda figured we'd be hurrahing some town tonight, not sitting here eating beans and hardtack and drinking weak coffee.”
“Could be worse.”
Heyes snorted. “Could always be worse! I just hoped it'd be better. Especially by now.”
Silence filled the cave, or more accurately, voices quieted and other sounds filled the cave. The soft crackling of the small fire flickering away, emitting the occasional hissing as the heat seared away at some damp spot in the kindling. Soft shadows danced upon the dark stone walls, the fire giving off just enough light for the boys to see each other and the food they had prepared and were settling in to eat.
Rain was pouring down outside, the loud steady beat of it hitting the rocks and hard ground surrounding the opening to this fortuitous shelter, bringing its own form of peace to the men inside. Being able to listen to rain beating down outside could be comforting when one is safe and dry inside especially when memories of weathering out a rain storm in the open were not far off in the recent past.
Even the horses seemed content with their lot. With the cave and it's entrance being big enough to allow the animals access, they had been brought in, striped of their tack and rubbed down. Each had been given a portion of grain from the meager supplies and then left to doze as they too appreciated the soft flickering light from the fire and the knowledge that they were under cover.
The fellas had seen the storm clouds heading their way and had made a dash for the rocks, hoping to find exactly what they did find. They quickly grabbed up dry brush and wood for kindling and as many larger branches and dead fall as they could gather. They got themselves into the cave and settled, and Heyes blocked the entrance with more shrubbery to keep them hidden from searching eyes and to keep the wind and the rain out while Kid made the fire. Then they'd settled down to dinner.
It was after they had both eaten their fill and Heyes was leaning back on his saddle, nursing his second cup of coffee when he made his apology. It wasn't his fault, but he still felt bad about it; this wasn't at all how he had intended to celebrate the Kid's birthday. When Heyes' birthday had arrived the previous month, they'd had a fine supper of prime rib with horse radish and mashed potatoes. Dry red wine with the meal and a fine brandy with dessert.
Heyes didn't know where the Kid had gotten the money to pay for such a fine meal, but he had; saving it up probably for over a month to insure that they'd have a real nice evening. Heyes had hoped to be able to return the favour when the Kid's day arrived but things just didn't fall into place the way the dark haired, dimpled one had intended.
The day had started out promising enough. They had just finished an easy job of delivering a package from one wealthy rancher to another wealthy rancher and had ended up being paid quite handsomely from both. Neither had expected that to be part of the deal, but neither of them said anything against it either and had departed the vicinity quickly in case there was a change of heart on the matter.
Three days later, Kid's birthday, they had put a lot of miles between themselves and the overly generous ranchers and were ready for a little r and r. They were well and truly into another county and casually trotting into a nice peaceable little town with the intentions of having a nice meal at the nice restaurant and then move on for various forms of entertainment over at the saloon. Unfortunately, best laid plans etc., got laid to rest when they not only recognized the local deputy, but the local deputy whose name was not posted on the sheriff's office plaque, recognized them!
Both party's had instantly taken off in two different directions; our two ex-outlaws who fortunately had yet to surrender their horses to the local livery, headed at a full gallop out of town. The deputy made a dash back to the sheriff's office to announce his discovery and motivate his superior to mount up a posse!
As is often the case, by the time a posse was put together, organized and sent off in pursuit, their quarry was long gone and lost in the hills. Unfortunately that fact did not change the fact that Heyes' plans for his cousin's birthday were squashed. Instead of a nice fancy supper in the comfort of a higher than average restaurant the boys found themselves simply grateful to find cover from the rain and have enough of something edible in their saddlebags.
“I can't count how many times we get rain on my birthday.” Kid groused quietly. “For some reason your birthday is always cold but sunny, but mine? Always wet.”
“Yeah.” Heyes had to agree. “March is like that. The transformation from winter into spring tends to bring warmer temperatures and more rain rather than snow.”
Kid looked over at his cousin, seeing the light from the fire dancing in his brown eyes. “No need to get all technical, just making an observation is all.”
Heyes grinned. “And I'm simply confirming your observation.”
Kid sighed and poured himself another coffee. “Even when we were young'uns...” He reminisced. “...your birthday would come along and your pa would hitch up the sled and he'd take us both out for a ride. It was fun—cold, but fun. Then my birthday and it'd be raining. Pouring even! Turning what was left of the snow into cold slushy mud! Every year. Year after year.”
It was Heyes' turn to sigh. “You're awfully melancholy.” He grumbled, trying to cover up that he still felt guilty. “Just cause we couldn't have a nice supper in a nice restaurant....”
“Aww, that ain't it Heyes.” Kid assured him. “I guess it's just the idea of one more year. Tick tock, tick tock. Geesh, even at the Hole we had more fun celebratin' the holidays than we've had since we left outlawin'. And every time my birthday rolls around I'm thinkin'; well, maybe next year things will be better. Maybe next year we'll have our amnesty.”
“Yeah, I know Kid.” Heyes agreed. “I guess we're both getting too old for this life style but damned if I know what to do about it.” He smiled and reached around for his saddle bag. Dragging it around in front of him he opened it up and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and held it up as an offering. “How about a 'specialty coffee'? Warm the spirit and the mind!”
Kid grinned and offered up his cup. “Sure! Didn't know ya' had any of that left.”
Heyes nodded with pleasure. “Yeah. Saved it for just such an occasion.”
He poured a generous portion into each of their cups and set the bottle back down to await further attention. Then he opened up the other side of his saddle bags and pulled out a small box. He smiled a little self-consciously but it was also laced with the quiet pleasure of anticipation; of being able to present his cousin with a gift even if the circumstances weren't quite as he had imagined them.
Curry frowned slightly at the unexpected offering. He glanced up and met his cousin's shining eyes and putting down his coffee cup, reached across the small fire and accepted the box. He sat and simply looked at it for a moment, feeling a tad awkward and surprised; all he'd done was take Heyes out for supper! He hadn't bought him anything.
“Are ya' gonna open it?” Heyes asked him, feeling that excitement of the gift-giver, expecting to bring pleasure to a friend.
“Oh yeah.” Kid smiled and then opened the little box. His jaw dropped in awed surprise and he ran his fingers gently over the surface of the offering. “Wow....Heyes.....” He looked over at his cousin again. “How did you....?”
Heyes grinned, his excitement taking over his dimples. “I saw you admiring it at the silversmiths.” He explained. “I mean....it's not like I didn't know your birthday was coming. And I had done pretty well at the poker tables that weekend, if you recall.”
“Yeah, I know but....wow.” Jed grinned then himself, deciding not to question the generosity. “Thanks Heyes.”
Heyes leaned back against his saddle again, cradling his coffee cup and watching his cousin drinking in the reality of his gift. With the way the fire light played with the shadows on his face and lit up his blue eyes, Jed looked like that little boy again at Christmas time. How did he do that? Heyes mused. With each passing year it always seemed that Kid ended up looking younger while Heyes himself would see an older reflection staring back at him.
Was it the blue eyes? The blond curls? Or was it simply that Heyes just felt older? Oh well, it didn't really matter.
“You're welcome Kid.”
Jed smiled and picked up the finely crafted, turquoise inlaid silver belt buckle and again ran his fingers appreciatively across the exquisite workmanship.
Heyes leaned forward again, raising his cup in a toast. “Happy Birthday, Kid.”
Kid picked up his own cup and the cousins tapped tin and took a drink. And the fire made the shadows dance upon the damp walls of the cave while the rain beat a solid tattoo upon the the rocks and shrubbery surrounding the entrance to their cozy shelter.