Don't Close Your Eyes

Chapter 22 – High End of the Boat

In due time Dr. Samuels allowed Bart to be moved to Sara's house, but he ordered strict bed rest for the gambler. With the original stitches having been torn loose, they were even more fragile this time and Bart risked permanent damage if they weren't allowed proper healing time.

Bret started playing poker again and Bart's winning streak smiled on the elder Maverick. As long as this run of good cards held he had no reason to leave Denver. Between Bret's lessons and Bart's, Sara became a top notch poker player. And Bart taught her the cribbage and whist that Rose taught him.

Bret took to riding the roan just to keep the horse exercised and Sara joined him on several occasions. The brothers laughed about sharing a girlfriend and Sara more or less laughed with them. Somewhere along the line it became obvious that Bart was her preference but also the least interested in anything other than friendship. Bret eventually started keeping company with a dancer at the 'Denver City Dance Hall and Saloon' named Catterine and suffered no broken heart over Sara.

Bart wrote letters to Rose and she wrote back. He didn't tell her about all the trouble, just that he was staying in Denver for a while, and had all mail sent to Bret's hotel. Had she known, she would have been on the first train. Since it was only a matter of time until Bart's injuries healed he saw no sense in disrupting her life in that way.

One afternoon Bret came by to see his brother after a particularly long and exceedingly difficult poker game ended in his favor. He wasn't tired but he'd had enough of cards for the day and wanted to give Sara a chance to get out of the house and go visit friends. Bart was improving daily and it wouldn't be long before he too was ready to leave. Sara needed to start working on her social life again.

"So, Brother Bart, what's next? St. Louis? New Orleans? Kansas – no, I guess not there. Any ideas?"

"I'm open to suggestions, Brother Bret. Got any?"

"You know Pappy wants us to come home for a while, don't you?"

Bart had to chuckle at that one. "Three days with Pappy in that little house and we'd all be looking for some place to hide."

"Naw, he says he and Uncle Ben are finally gonna put the spreads together and live in the big house. They've hired somebody to run cattle while they keep the locals amused. He swears it's gonna happen this time."

"Pappy and Ben can't live together any more than we can."

Bret shook his head, disagreeing with his brother. "They're getting old, Bart. They're both tired of living alone. Uncle Ben's talked Lily Mae into moving out to the ranch with them, permanent. They seem determined to make it stick this time. The big house has got plenty of room. They want us to come down and stay for a while. What about it?"

Bart thought about it for a minute but just couldn't get a visit with his father and his uncle into his head. "I can't, Bret. I've been beat up for so long I don't think I could take those three together for more than a day or two. I need to do something different. I was reading in the paper there's a new river queen coming out of St. Louis and heading for Bayou country. She's the 'Mississippi Bayou Belle' and she's leaving port next month. There's a passel of big shots going with her, poker playing big shots. I haven't been down river in a long time. This could be just what I've been looking for. What do you say? Wanna go with me?"

It was a tempting offer. "High end or low end of the boat?"

"Whatever we can afford. I already wired Garrett, he can get us an invitation if we want one. You game?"

Hmmm. A new river boat. Nobody hunting for either one of them. Best of all, no Samantha and her book of Hoyle. "Alright, I'm in. You sure now? I thought there was a woman making you crazy."

Bart didn't tell him that it was Anderson Garrett's own daughter. Or about the two little girls in his 'dream.' Rose would wait or she wouldn't wait, it was all up to her. Denver had once again proven to him that he wasn't ready to settle down. "That'll keep."