The Storm – Chapter 7

Day 24

Kid sat at the table enjoying a cup of coffee while the rest of the household woke up. He noticed Heyes stirring and went over to him.

"It's a nice mornin'. Wanna have a cup of coffee with me out on the porch?"

"Sure." Heyes sat up and, hanging on to the end of the bed, stood and got his balance before shuffling out the door with his partner right behind him in case his help was needed. Once Heyes was settled on a chair, Kid got two cups of coffee and joined him.

"So, what's the plan for the day?" Heyes asked as he took a sip.

"Me and Floyd need to go to town today."

"You and Floyd?"

"We need supplies and we're all goin'."

"All of us?" Heyes looked incredulous.

"Yeah."

"Don't think that's a good idea, Kid."

"Why not?"

"What if we get recognized? I wouldn't have a chance in town."

"We ain't gonna be recognized."

Heyes scowled. "Oh yeah? What about that deputy?"

"Floyd convinced Deputy Mason we're just Jones and Smith."

"I still say it's a bad idea. I don't wanna go."

"Well, I can't leave you here alone."

"Why not?"

"What if someone comes around? What if you fall again? What if…"

"Okay, okay… Leave Samuel here with me."

Now the Kid was getting impatient. "And just what's he gonna do if someone comes by?" He stood up. "What's more, it ain't fair to him not to be able to come to town. They're all gonna want to go."

Despite Curry's increasing irritation, Heyes wasn't giving up. "That's great for them, but sitting in that wagon is gonna kill my back."

"It won't be a problem. We're puttin' a mattress in the wagon for you. You're comin'."

"No, I'm not!"

"You are!"

Kid stood over Heyes and glared down at him while Heyes looked daggers back.

A minute later, Heyes grinned. "How about we toss a coin? Heads I stay and tails I go."

Kid still looked cross. "Fine, if it'll make you happy, toss a coin."

Later in the wagon, Heyes muttered, "It was heads!"

"And I told you we were all goin' to town. I didn't give you a choice, Joshua. 'Sides, I ain't dumb; I know about your coin."

"But you agreed."

"I said toss it if it'd make you happy. I didn't agree to nothin'."

Heyes stared at his partner as he thought back to the Kid's words before the coin toss. I can't believe I didn't pay more attention to what he said. "You're starting to think like me," he mumbled, but no one heard him.

"Why don't you wanna go to town, Mr. Smith?" Hannah asked. "I love goin' there."

"Me, too," said Samuel.

Levi piped up, "Will we be allowed candy, Pa?"

"You know we don't have no money for extras. We're buyin' just what we need and nothin' more," Floyd answered his youngest son.

"Mr. Smith, why didn't you wanna come?" persisted Hannah.

"I don't feel good today," Heyes muttered.

Kid turned around. "You're feelin' good enough. Why don't you do a lesson on the way? It'll make the time go by faster. I know you have a deck of cards in your pocket."

"Oh, can we play that game twenty-one again?" Samuel asked, enthused.

"Sure, why not," Heyes grumbled as he took the deck out.

A couple of hours later, they rolled into town. Curry tied up the wagon in front of the mercantile and helped Heyes get out of the wagon.

"Pa, can we go and see if any of our friends are in town today?" Samuel asked.

"Sure, but you keep on eye on Levi and see he don't get into mischief. Meet us back at the wagon in an hour or so."

The three children jumped out of the wagon and ran around a corner.

"I hafta go talk to the blacksmith about makin' a bracket for the barn. You can start gettin' the supplies you need, Floyd. Joshua, why don't you sit on the bench out in front 'til I come back?"

"You're giving me a choice?"

"Nope." Curry helped him step up on the boardwalk and then let Heyes walk by himself to the bench. "I'll be back in a few minutes."

Later, Kid joined Floyd in the store. "Did you remember the window panes?"

"Yep. I think I got everything," Floyd answered. "I'm gonna sit down next to Joshua and rest a spell."

"I'll be there in a minute."

The shopkeeper came over. "Can I get you something?"

"Yeah, I need some cigars, a bottle of whiskey, and some candy."

Curry came out a few minutes later and stashed his purchases in the wagon.

"What did you get?" Heyes asked as he watched him.

"Oh, a few things for later on." Kid grinned. "Ready for a drink?"

"Sure."

Curry walked behind Heyes and Floyd as they slowly made their way to the saloon. As they passed the barber shop, Dr. Becker walked out of the door.

"Oh, Floyd! Mr. Smith! I'm so pleased to see you both up and walking, especially you, Mr. Smith! How's the back?"

"Hurts."

"Well, that's to be expected. You had quite the bruising on your back. Something like that takes some time to heal. But the fact that you're up and walking…" The doctor noticed Heyes favoring his wrist and the black eye. "What? Your wrist is still bothering you? And what happened to your eye?"

"Joshua decided to go walkin' on his own a few days back…"

"And I fell." Heyes scowled at his partner.

"Ahh… Well, you do need to be careful. Take it slowly, but it looks as if you're recovering nicely." Dr. Becker looked at his pocket watch. "So where are you men headed?"

"To the saloon," Floyd leaned against a post.

"Just a drink or two. Especially if anyone is still on laudanum."

"Nope," Kid replied. "We haven't needed any for awhile."

"Good… Good. And Levi's cast is still on and in one piece?"

"It sure is, Doctor, though that hasn't been easy." Floyd grinned. "He's runnin' around here somewhere."

"Well, I won't keep you any longer. Enjoy your drinks." The doctor tipped his hat and walked down the boardwalk.

The men entered the saloon and sat at the nearest table.

"Three beers, please." Kid held up three fingers as he made eye contact with the bartender.

The barkeeper brought over the order. "Floyd, it's good to see you! Sorry about Rose and the baby." He shook his head. "And John, too. Terrible news."

"Thanks, Charlie. It's been a difficult few weeks. Wouldn't have made it without Rose's kin here. This is Thaddeus Jones and his friend, Joshua Smith."

"Sheriff mentioned Rose's kin was there helpin' out." Charlie held out his hand. "Nice to meet you two."

Heyes and Kid shook hands with the owner.

"This round is on the house, Floyd. Call me over if you need anything else."

"Friendly town," Kid commented before taking a sip. "Ahh… That hits the spot!"

"It sure does," Floyd agreed.

"It's warm."

"It ain't warm, Joshua."

"It's not as cold as it should be."

Kid shook his head. "Joshua, leave it!"

On the way back to the wagon, Heyes' steps began to falter. Kid stepped up and put an arm around him, steadying him. "Doc said to take it slowly," Curry reminded him.

Heyes just grimaced as he settled into the wagon.

"Are you okay?"

"No, I'm not okay. Told you I wasn't feeling good. All that jarring around in the back of this wagon. Suppose you didn't bring any laudanum with you."

"No." Kid looked skeptically at his partner. "I can get some from the doc, but I just told him you didn't need it anymore. Are you sure you're not just sore that you had to come to town with us?"

Heyes glared at his partner and the Kid raised his eyebrows back, with a slight smile. After a moment he added, "Or maybe I should bandage your back up like I do when you go riding…"

"I am NOT taking my pants down in the middle of town," cut in Heyes angrily causing the Kid to grin.

"Okay, let's get ya some laudanum, then. I'll be right back."

"If you see the children, tell them we're ready to go," Floyd said as he leaned against one of the wheels.

Still smiling, the Kid hurried to the doctor's office and picked up some laudanum. As he went back, he met up with the kids. "Good timin'. We're ready to leave."

"Here ya go. This will make you feel better." Curry handed the bottle to Heyes, who took a sip.

"About time."

"We got the point, Joshua!" Kid stopped smiling.

On the way home, Heyes sat in the back, muttering every time the wagon jolted.

Floyd asked, "Remind me, why did we bring him along today?"

Kid sighed and rolled his eyes. "Ignore him. He gets like this when he don't get his way and he never lets up."

A short time later, Floyd nudged. "Turn around."

Kid looked back over his shoulder to see Heyes and the children sleeping, with Heyes' arms around Hannah and Levi.

"Guess he ain't so bad after all."

Despite himself, the Kid grinned. "Nope," he conceded. "He ain't bad…when he's asleep!"

Day 25

Curry woke up early, made coffee and took a cup of it into the barn. He was checking the bracket the blacksmith made to brace up the broken beam and the best way to make it work when Heyes shuffled into the barn.

"Morning! See you're up early to tackle that beam." Heyes looked up into the loft before he eased his body down on a bench. Seeing the Kid's coffee left on the bench, he picked it up and took a sip.

"And you made it from the house to the barn by yourself?" the Kid replied. "You sure are doin' a lot better."

"Well, I was slow enough and I couldn't carry my coffee so I'm drinking yours. You've let it go cold."

"Thanks," came the sarcastic reply.

Heyes looked over where Curry was working. "Figured out how you're going to brace that beam?"

"Yeah, I think I'll…"

"If I were you, I'd find a long piece of wood and…"

"Mornin'!" Floyd hobbled into the barn on crutches. "Thought I'd find you two out here. Gonna work on that beam, I see."

"Yeah."

"I was just telling Thaddeus that he should find a long piece of wood to hold the beam in place while he sets the bracket."

Floyd studied the area to be fixed before sitting next to Heyes. "Or he could use rope to hold it in place."

"That'd work, too," Heyes agreed.

"You wanna hear how I plan to fix it?" Kid asked, the frustration clearly audible in his voice.

"Sure."

"Of course we do."

"Well, I thought I'd…" Curry' explanation was interrupted by the children entering the barn.

"Here's where everyone is!" exclaimed Samuel.

"Mr. Jones, I'm hungry. Ain't you gonna make breakfast?"

"It's aren't you gonna make breakfast, Levi," Heyes corrected him.

"What are we havin' for breakfast 'cos we're outta bacon, Mr. Jones?" added Hannah. "You remember I told you?"

"Out of bacon? What'll we have with our eggs?" moaned Samuel.

"Mr. Jones?"

Curry closed his eyes as he tried to remain calm and keep his composure.

"Mr. Jones?" repeated Levi.

"WHAT?" Kid yelled as he lost control.

Silence. The children all stared at the Kid.

"Thaddeus," reproached Heyes quietly.

"Sorry, Levi, I didn't mean to yell at you." Kid raked his hand through his curls.

"I was just gonna ask if I could help you with the beam," said Levi in a small voice.

The Kid sighed, but there was impatience behind it. "It's not too safe so I'd rather you just watch."

Heyes could see his partner was fighting for every ounce of patience as he did when the Devil's Hole Gang got on his nerves. "Why don't we ALL just quietly watch Thaddeus work? It shouldn't take long and then we'll go in and have breakfast."

Now with an audience watching him, Curry began to hammer the bracket into the wall.

"Don't think I would've…" Floyd whispered, but loud enough for Kid to hear.

Kid paused and took a deep breath. When he began to hammer again, he missed. "DAMN!" He put his hit thumb in his mouth.

"Thaddeus! There's children around," Heyes reminded him.

"It hurts!"

"Well, be more careful next time."

Now Heyes got a look from his partner.

Kid hammered some more and hit another finger. "D…" he grimaced in pain as the audience held their breath waiting for another 'bad word'.

"Phew, I thought he was gonna say damn again," Levi said relieved.

"Levi, I don't ever want to hear you say that word again. Am I makin' myself clear?" Floyd admonished his youngest.

"Sorry, Pa."

"Don't you all have something better to do than watch me work," Kid asked, trying and failing to keep the edge out of his voice. "What about breakfast or chores?"

His answer was a chorus of dismay and protest from the children.

Heyes shrugged, "Now it looks like you don't have a choice, Thaddeus. You'll have to deal with an audience. Anyway, it shouldn't take you much longer."

Curry sighed and went back to work. He hit his finger another time before finishing. Then he tried to lift the beam into the bracket without success. He looked at his crew of two disabled men and two children and one kinda… "Samuel, maybe you can help me."

"I wanna help!" Levi jumped up and climbed into the loft.

Just as Levi came close, the wooden bar holding the girder up cracked under the weight and the timber support began to fall where Levi stood. Kid did his best to hold the barn brace up.

"MOVE, Levi!" Floyd yelled. "Quick, Samuel, get that piece of wood and put it under the beam."

Curry closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as he strained to hold the support.

A minute later, Samuel put two pieces of lumber under the beam. "You can set it down, now, Mr. Jones."

Kid placed it on the wood and breathed heavily as he caught his breath again. "Get some rope."

Levi went down the ladder and came back up with rope. "See, I can help."

Curry nodded and tossed the rope over a main rafter and looped it around the broken one. He tied it off so the beam he was working on was supported by rope and lumber.

Without a word, Kid went down the ladder from the loft, took his bridle and saddle, and went to the corral.

Heyes watched him in silence as Floyd and the children looked on in puzzlement. Wanting to see what "Mr. Jones was up to", the children ran out of the barn. Heyes and Floyd followed more slowly to see Kid leading his saddled horse to the house. He went in for a minute and came out with his saddle bags.

"You're just going?" Heyes asked quietly.

Kid didn't answer. He tied his bags to the horse and mounted.

"Okay," said Heyes. "Then when are you coming back?"

"Don't know." Curry rode out of the yard.

"Thaddeus!" Floyd shouted after him. "Darn it. Levi, look at what you did. You got Mr. Jones upset enough to leave us."

Levi whimpered as he brushed tears from his eyes. "I didn't mean to."

Heyes watched his partner leave until he was out of sight. "It's not Levi's fault, Floyd. I should've seen this coming. He's tired and trying to do everything and be everywhere at once. He just needs some time alone. He'll be back."

"What are we gonna do without Mr. Jones?" Hannah asked as she snuggled up against her father.

"We'll go about our chores." He stroked her arm, holding her tighter. "It'll be all right."

"I think first thing we need to do is have a good breakfast and decide what needs to be done," Heyes put an arm over Levi's shoulders. "Think you can help Hannah and Samuel with breakfast?"

Levi nodded and wiped his nose.

"How about something easier than eggs and bacon – like oatmeal?" Floyd suggested as he began hobbling into the house.

"That sounds good," Heyes agreed. "Looks like rain on the horizon."

"Think me and you could start fixin' the broken windows with the new panes, Joshua?"

"Reckon we could manage that, even if neither of us can walk the best," Heyes eased his way up the porch.

"And Samuel can help, too," Floyd added.

"What are me and Levi gonna do after breakfast?" Hannah asked.

"You can take care of the animals and then clean up the house." Floyd looked around the room. "It could use a good dustin' and sweepin'. Levi, you see to Annie, too."

After eating, everyone settled about doing their tasks. Floyd taught Samuel how to safely remove a broken pane of glass from its wooden window frame. Heyes, seated comfortably at the kitchen table, replaced it with one of the new panes they'd bought in town. With the new glass installed, Floyd showed Samuel how to gently secure the window frame back into place.

By late afternoon, thunder rumbled closer and closer. The last window was set into place when the sky opened with rain and hail falling.

Samuel ran under the cover of the porch. "It's gonna be a bad one, Pa!"

"Glad we got the windows fixed then." Heyes finally lay down in the bed, his back throbbing after so much activity.

"What about Mr. Jones? What's he gonna do in this storm?" Levi looked out the window towards the road, hoping to see a man on a horse return.

"He'll be okay. Me and Thaddeus have been on the trail before with storms. He'll find some kind of shelter," Heyes said calmly.

The sky grew darker and darker. Floyd lit the lanterns. Lightning lit up the yard and thunder shook the house.

"Pa, is it gonna be another twister? Do we need to get under the bed?" Hannah asked worriedly.

"I can't say, honey. I'm watchin' the weather. If I think we need to get under the bed, I'll let you know."

"Are you sure, Pa?" Even Samuel was nervous about the storm.

"I know, Levi, hand me the book. I'll read from it for awhile. How'd that be?" Heyes asked as he propped himself up on his pillows. "Floyd, can you bring one of those lights closer to me so I can see better?"

"Sure." Floyd grinned and winked at Heyes. "That sounds like a great idea. You all wanna hear the next adventure of that Robinson Crusoe fella, don't you?"

"Yeah!" the children responded in unison.

"Okay, gather 'round and make yourselves comfortable." Heyes took the book from Levi and found his place while the Walker family settled themselves on the bed and rocking chair.

Heyes read the book for a few hours as storm after storm rumbled through the area. They ate the rest of the stew and some biscuits for dinner and then the children began to nod off.

"Do we hafta sleep in the loft," Samuel asked after a loud crack of thunder.

"No. It don't look like Thaddeus is comin' back tonight. You can use his bed." Floyd went to the cabinet and got some laudanum. "And it looks like you're in pain. Want some?" he asked Heyes as he showed him the bottle.

"Yeah, that'll help me get to sleep." Heyes took the bottle and drank some of the liquid. "Thanks."

"Thaddeus will be all right?" Floyd asked, for his sake as well as the children's.

"He'll be okay. He just needs some time. I'm sure he'll be back soon."

Day 26

Heyes woke before sunrise and got up to make coffee. He got ready for the day before fetching several leftover biscuits, which he put in his pocket. Then he picked up the coffee pot and two cups and shuffled carefully outside to the porch. Once there, he deposited the coffee pot and cups on one of the chairs and headed off at a slightly quicker pace towards the barn.

Heyes tapped the barn door and then stepped back. A moment later, Curry opened the door.

"Morning. Thought you could use these." Heyes walked in and handed the Kid the biscuits out of his pocket. "There's coffee on the porch if you want to go and fetch it. I couldn't manage two cups all the way over here."

Kid looked over to the porch. Swiftly and silently he went over and poured out two cups which he brought back over to the barn. He handed one to Heyes who had sat down on the bench before gratefully taking a sip himself. "How d'ya know I was here?

"I know my partner. Knew you'd be close by with the storms in case we needed help."

Curry sat next to his partner. "I shouldn't have left. I shouldn't have lost my patience."

"Kid, I'm surprised you were able to keep it all together as long as you did."

"What d'ya mean by that?" Kid looked sideways.

"Just that you've taken on a lot of responsibility for me and the Walker family. You had to do things you weren't comfortable doing." Heyes paused. "And I bet you're tired."

Kid nodded and sipped his coffee.

"Where did you go?"

"Just to the creek. Did some shootin' and thinkin'."

"Well, that's gotten us in trouble before."

"The shootin' or the thinkin'?" Kid chuckled.

Heyes grinned at Curry and received a smile back.

"Both," Heyes answered jokingly.

"I was thinkin' that we'll have to leave the Walkers soon now that you're walkin'."

Heyes put a hand on Kid's knee. "We still have a little time. I wouldn't mind healing up some more – maybe a week or so."

"It's not gonna be an easy goodbye, I reckon."

"No, it won't. You helped them all at a difficult time – bandaged their wounds, buried their ma and sister, and brought back a bit of normal living. Things might have been very different for them now if not for you."

Kid yawned.

"And I reckon you could still do with a bit of a break. Looks like it's gonna be a nice day. Why don't you take off again before they notice you've been here? Have a relaxing day fishing or resting. We'll have dinner ready when you get back."

"Are you sure?"

"Sure I'm sure. Now go."

Kid handed the cup back to Heyes. "Thanks, Heyes." He saddled up his horse and led him out of the yard before getting on and riding off.

Heyes watched his partner leave as he slowly made his way back to the house, sat on the porch and poured himself out another cup of coffee. "No, thanks for all you've done. Don't know if I could've done all you did if the roles were reversed."

Within half an hour, Floyd opened the door. "I was wonderin' where you went."

"Couldn't have gone far."

"No. Guess neither of us can go very far or very fast. It'll be nice to be healed up again."

"It sure will be." Heyes eyed the coffee pot. "Sorry, I've let the coffee go cold."

Floyd dismissed the apology with a wave of his hand. "When do ya reckon Thaddeus will come back?"

Heyes smiled. "I reckon he'll be back tonight."

Floyd looked down and spoke, as if choosing his words carefully. "I've come to think of you boys as family these past couple of weeks. I even told the sheriff you were. Well, anyway, I just wanted to say, I don't care who you really are, and if you wanted to stay…" He paused letting the invitation hang in the air.

"Thanks, Floyd. We appreciate it." replied Heyes.

Then he looked sideways and smiled. "And now I could use another cup of coffee."

"Me too."

Heyes taught lessons to the children during the day while Floyd worked on a bridle and saddle.

When dinner was almost ready, Levi set the table for five as Samuel and Hannah finished up the roast and potatoes.

"May want to set another place, Levi," Heyes said with a smile.

"For Mr. Jones? You think he's comin' back?"

"Thaddeus wouldn't miss a meal of roast and potatoes."

Samuel and Hannah looked over.

"Really?" Hannah asked.

Heyes nodded.

As if on cue, they heard Kid ride into the yard towards the barn.

The children all ran out onto the porch and waited. Heyes and Floyd joined them as the Kid walked over.

He stopped in front of the house and gave them a huge grin. It was enough. The children stormed over and threw themselves at him.

"You're back… You're back!"

"Gosh, what a welcome!" Kid exclaimed.

"We missed you!" Hannah said, in agreement with her brothers.

"Let me take care of my horse and I'll be right in. Somethin' smells real good."

"Hannah and I made a roast and potatoes." Samuel took the horse's reins. "I'll take care of him. You go on inside."

Kid saw Floyd at the door watching his children's reception as he walked to the house with Levi and Hannah.

"Floyd, I wanna apologize to you for losin' my temper the other day in front of the kids."

"No need for that, Thaddeus. We should be apologizin' to you for not helpin' out more and lettin' you have all the responsibility. Come on in."

Kid walked in and saw Heyes grinning from his bed. "About time you got back. Dinner's ready."

At the supper table, the children took turns telling the Kid all the things that happened while he was away.

"Guess they missed you, Thaddeus," Floyd concluded at the end of the meal. "Guess I did, too."

"You got the panes repaired, I see," Curry noted as he looked over to one of the windows.

"Just in time for the rains to come," added Samuel.

Floyd stood up from the table and sat in a rocking chair. "Now I think we all deserve a drink to celebrate Thaddeus' return. Is there anything left in that bottle you found?"

"No, but I bought more while we were in town." Kid pulled a bottle of whiskey from his saddle bags.

Heyes grinned. "So that's what you hid in the wagon when we were in town."

Hannah stood by the table, not sure of what to make of her men drinking.

Floyd saw his daughter's look. "Hannah, a drink or two won't do no one no harm. It's when you drink every day and more than one or two that it causes a problem."

"You sure Ma would approve?"

"Yes, Rose would be pourin' us a drink, if she was still alive, honey."

"Maybe we should have that drink out on the porch while the children clean up?" Heyes suggested.

"Good idea."

The men headed outdoors with three glasses and a bottle.

A short time later, the children joined them. They listened to the crickets and frogs in the distance. Heyes explained that the crickets make the noise from rubbing their wings together. Kid pointed out a shooting star to the children.

Later, everyone was yawning.

"Guess it's time to go in and get some sleep. Let's say prayers out here tonight." Floyd and the children said their prayers while Heyes and the Kid respectfully listened.

"And thank you for bringing back Mr. Jones," one of the children said at the end. "Amen."

Day 27

The next morning, lessons resumed under the tree while Floyd and Kid worked in the barn. A wagon came around the bend and Levi ran into the shelter yelling, "Pa, Mrs. Hamilton's here!"

"Agnes is here?" Floyd asked as he brushed his hands clean on an old rag before going out to greet her.

Curry grinned and followed Floyd outside to the wagon.

"What a pleasant surprise, Agnes. I didn't know you were comin' today." Floyd held onto the wagon as he assisted her down.

"Well, with that storm the other night, I wanted to make sure everyone was all right." She looked around the yard and noticed Heyes slowly walking towards them. "It appears Mr. Smith is feeling better."

"Yes, ma'am, he is." Curry leaned against the hitching rail in front of the house. "Been walkin' further each day."

"And you replaced the glass panes in the windows!"

Floyd grinned. "Yep, me and Joshua did those the other day, before the storm broke."

Heyes joined his partner at the railing.

"Mr. Smith, I was just commenting on how well you are looking. And you helped Floyd with the windows."

"Yes, ma'am. I'm feeling stronger every day. Figured it was about time I quit laying around all day."

"Agnes, since you're visitin', I might as well admit that there's something I've been wantin' to talk to you about. I was wonderin' if you'd take a walk with me." Floyd blushed a little as he spoke.

"I'd be pleased to walk with you." She looked around. "The hill is so beautiful with the wildflowers. Shall we visit the grave?"

"Can we go?" Hannah asked.

Floyd turned to the partners in mute appeal and Heyes came to his rescue.

"I think we should go back to lessons – give your pa and Mrs. Hamilton some time alone." He glanced sideways at his partner and both grinned.

Floyd winked. "I'd appreciate that, Joshua."

Heyes and the children went back to their lessons while Kid continued to work in the yard.

It was over an hour later when Floyd and Agnes came back down the hill with big smiles on their faces. Floyd sat Agnes down on a porch chair before calling everyone over.

The children ran over, but Floyd and Agnes waited until Heyes made it up to the porch and sat down on the second chair. Curry stood behind his partner.

Floyd beamed at the group. "I have an announcement to make, everyone. I have asked Agnes to marry me and she has agreed." He took her hand and held it.

Neither Heyes nor Curry could hide their grins.

"That's wonderful news, Floyd," said Heyes.

"Congratulations," added the Kid.

They looked around to the children who were staring at their father and Agnes transfixed.

Then Hannah spoke. "You're gettin' married?" she asked, the confusion evident on her face.

"That's right, Hannah," confirmed her father. We'll be married in a few days – no sense waitin'." He and Agnes smiled at each other. "And we'll be movin' into the Hamilton's house. It's bigger than this one and will fit all of us."

"You'll have your very own room, Hannah," Agnes added, "Would you like that?" She then turned to the two boys with an encouraging smile. "And you'll both have a bigger room, too."

"We figure later Matthew and Mark will move in here and take care of the place. In the meantime, Thaddeus and Joshua, you are welcome to stay as long as you want here."

"What about our lessons?" Samuel asked, finding his voice.

"We'll be closer to town so you can go to school with Luke and John."

A pause as this sank in, and then, "Four more big brothers…" Levi rolled his eyes.

But Hannah was now beaming. "My own room and school!"

"What do you think, Samuel?" his father asked.

"It'll take some gettin' use to the idea," Samuel honestly said. "Havin' a ma again, a new house and more brothers…"

"It'll be just fine. You wait and see," Floyd promised him.

"What about Ma and baby Mary?" Levi looked up the hill to the grave.

"They're always gonna be here on that beautiful hill. And soon, you'll be old enough to ride over here and visit the grave whenever you want to," Floyd informed his youngest.

"Mrs. Hamilton, if we come and live with you, will you be able to braid hair like my ma and Mr. Jones?" Hannah asked.

Agnes smiled. "I'm sure I can. I braid my own hair every night before I go to bed." Agnes then reached out a hand and brought Hannah closer. "You're a very pretty little girl. You know, I always wanted a daughter and now, in you, I've been blessed with one."

"What do we call you?" Samuel still looked a little unsure.

"Soon you may call me Mrs. Walker or, maybe someday, you'll want to call me mother or ma. Actually, I would like that very much," Agnes told him softly.

Hannah and Levi smiled.

"A ma again," said Levi.

Now that the children appeared at least temporarily satisfied, Heyes stood up to shake Floyd's hand. "Well, once again, congratulations, you two. May I be the first to kiss the bride?"

Agnes blushed as Heyes and then Curry gave her a congratulatory kiss on the cheek.

"You have both done so much for the family," Agnes said with real feeling. "I thank you both and I don't know how we can possibly repay you."

When the Kid went on to shake Floyd's hand, he suddenly became more serious. "My invitation to stay still stands, Thaddeus. You know we'd all be gone if you hadn't stopped by and helped."

Curry shrugged his shoulders. "I needed a place for Joshua to heal up. It helped everyone when we stumbled on your ranch."

Nodding at the truth in this, Floyd now turned to Agnes and held out his hand. "Well, dear, should we go to your place and tell your boys?"

She took his hand and stood. "Yes, let's do that. One of my boys can bring you home later."

"You don't mind watchin' my young'uns, again?" Floyd asked as he looked towards Heyes and Kid.

"Of course not. Go and tell the Hamilton boys," Heyes said.

Curry followed them to the wagon. "Let me help you up, Floyd."

"Thanks, Thaddeus. I can't wait for this cast to come off!"

"Soon, dear, soon," Agnes said as Kid helped Floyd into the front of the wagon and together they rode off to the Hamilton ranch.

"What are we gonna do now?" Levi asked. "More lessons?"

"Well, after such big news, I reckon we ought to take to celebrate." Heyes sat down in one of the chairs again. "How would you like that?"

"As long as you don't hurt yourself or get your cast wet when you go off, Levi," Curry added.

The children didn't need telling twice. They all went off in different directions. Samuel went into the barn to work on his deer hide. Hannah went inside to start packing. Levi and Annie went for a walk in the field.

A few hours later, Heyes and Kid were standing by the corral watching the horses.

"Nice of the Walkers to say we can stay." Kid hitched a leg up on the bottom rung of the fence.

"Yeah, but don't you think we've stayed long enough?" Heyes asked.

"Depends. How are you doin'? May as well stay if you need a little longer to heal."

"I'll be okay." Curry frowned at his partner and Heyes added, "Well, maybe not to run away from a posse. But if we took it easy for awhile. Stay low and not look for trouble."

"Heyes, we always try to take it easy and not look for trouble. Trouble just has a way of findin' us." Kid paused for a moment. "That reminds me, someone was watchin' me yesterday at the creek while I was shootin'."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure! I know when I'm bein' watched."

"Any idea of who it was?"

"Nope."

Heyes sighed. "More reason for us to leave as soon as possible."

A few minutes later, Samuel came out of the barn and joined the men watching the horses.

"Seems like you have something on your mind, Samuel," Heyes commented.

"Yeah – It'll be strange livin' at the Hamilton's ranch and havin' them as family."

"It'll be okay. And you can go to school." Curry continued to stare out in the corral.

"I know." Samuel paused for a long while. "Do you have to go? Pa said you could stay here."

"What makes you think we're leavin'?" Kid asked.

"I just heard you talkin' about it."

Curry and Heyes quickly glanced at each other.

Heyes put his arm around Samuel's shoulders. "Yeah, we have to be moving on."

"Is it because you're outlaws?" he suddenly blurted out.

Heyes' and Curry's eyes met. "What makes you think that?" asked Heyes.

"Well, I heard Mrs. Hamilton say that Deputy Mason thought you were outlaws when she was leavin'. And the way you pulled out your gun when someone came to the house. And… and the way you wear your gun tied down like that. And you say that you have to be movin' on. And, well, I heard you talkin' about a posse."

Again, Heyes and Kid looked at each other.

"If you aren't outlaws, you can stay," he finished.

"It's kinda complicated, Samuel," began Curry. "You see, me and Joshua, well, we both lost our whole families when we were about your and Hannah's age."

"We didn't have a pa like you do to keep us on the straight and narrow," Heyes continued. "It meant that, when we were younger, we sometimes did things which we didn't think too much about, but which were wrong. We're not proud of what we did and now we're trying to change. To be better."

"You ARE outlaws, then," confirmed Samuel triumphantly. "Are you someone famous? Frank & Jesse James? Hannibal Heyes & Kid Curry? Big Nose George & Frank McKinney?"

Kid shook his head. "Smart kid, huh? Let's just say we're nobody you should be proud of knowin'." He ruffled Samuel's hair and the boy grinned.

"Samuel, you haven't told Hannah or Levi what you've been thinking, have you?" Heyes looked the boy in the eyes.

"No. I haven't."

"Well, do you think you could keep it a secret?"

Samuel looked puzzled.

"Thing is," said Heyes. "It don't matter if it's true or not. You say something like that out loud and someone like Deputy Mason, or the Sheriff even, gets to hear of it and, even if we've done nothin' wrong, people'll start getting anxious and want to chase us away. We'd be in trouble and have to leave. You understand?"

Samuel now nodded solemnly. "I won't tell anyone, I promise."

Later that evening, Luke and Mark brought Floyd home in the wagon.

"'Bye, Mr. Walker. See you in a few days," they said as he walked into the house.

"How did the Hamilton boys take the news?" Kid poured a cup of coffee and handed it to Floyd.

"They took it real well. I think they're relieved not to be runnin' the ranch by themselves for their ma. And happy to have Samuel, Hannah and Levi join the family." Floyd took a sip. "I think it'll be good for everyone."

After the children were in bed, the men went out on the porch to enjoy the cool of the evening. Curry brought out three glasses and poured them drinks.

"To Agnes and Floyd…" Heyes raised his glass in a toast. "May they have a long and prosperous marriage."

"Here... Here," Kid agreed.

Floyd beamed as he took a sip. "This will be good for both our families." Then Floyd raised his glass. "Another toast: To Thaddeus and Joshua… Thank you for all that you've done for me and my family."

Kid and Heyes joined Floyd in a drink.

"You have a good family, Floyd," the Kid told him. "I'd forgotten what havin' a good family was like. To be honest, finding you after the storm brought back memories that we'd both rather have forgotten, but later, with your kids, we could remember the good times, too."

"Yep," Heyes agreed and the Kid looked at him in surprise as he spoke voluntarily about the past. "There were good memories, too. Ones that we can and should remember."

But Floyd just looked at them both, the truth dawning on him. "You're gonna leave," he said…

Day 32

Kid was up early the day of the wedding. After starting the coffee, he went out to collect some eggs from the chicken coop and looked around. He remembered how ravaged the farm looked when he arrived and marveled how well it looked now. He gazed at the beautiful sunrise announcing a picture perfect day of blue skies and a few white fluffy clouds.

Going into the house, he noticed Heyes and Floyd stirring. He poured three cups of coffee and waited for them to get up. "Mornin'."

Heyes yawned and stretched as he climbed out of bed. "Is that hot coffee waiting for me?"

Curry nodded and began frying up the eggs and the last of the bacon.

With the smell of food, the children began waking up in the loft.

"That sure smells good, Mr. Jones," Levi said as he climbed down the ladder.

"I'm sure Mrs. Hamilton makes a really good breakfast." Kid turned the bacon over.

Floyd looked his youngest over. "I hope you're not plannin' on wearin' that to the weddin', Levi."

"No, Pa. I didn't want my good clothes to get dirty so I thought I'd put them on last."

Floyd nodded and smiled. "Good thinkin', son. You're growin' up."

"He's gonna hafta with all those big brothers around," quipped the Kid. Levi merely grinned proudly.

"And I get my own room tonight!" Hannah said cheerfully as she too came down the ladder.

"And no more loft or ladder. Real rooms with real stairs," Floyd told her, adding, "And a new mother who will teach you to sew and cook." At this, Hannah also beamed.

"And I can go to school," said Samuel climbing down. "I can't wait for it to start in the Fall.

"The way you've been learning, Samuel, you'll be top of the class in no time," Heyes assured him.

"Are you three all packed? Get your belongin's in the wagon. We're goin' straight to the Hamilton's ranch after the wedding."

Levi let out a gasp. "What about Annie, Pa? We forgot her. And the chickens? And Bessie? Should I put them in the wagon, too?"

"No, son. Your older brothers will help you and Samuel bring all the animals over tomorrow. They'll be okay here overnight." When he saw Levi about to object, he added. "Annie will be fine for one night without you."

Levi pouted. "Well… okay, if you're sure…"

"I am and I don't expect to find her smuggled in the wagon when we get to the church." He gave his youngest son a mock stern look.

"And the rest of the food… We will be comin' back for that, too?" Hannah asked.

"Yep, we'll get that and anything else we want from the house, especially your mother's Bible that one of you will get someday." Floyd sat at the table. "Looks like breakfast is ready. Come to the table now."

Curry put the eggs and bacon on the table and then poured more coffee for the men before sitting down himself.

"You know, this is our last meal here with Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith," said Hannah looking solemn.

"But tonight you're gonna have dinner with a whole new family. It don't get much more excitin' than that," pointed out the Kid, which made the children smile.

"That's gonna be real funny," said Levi wrinkling his nose and making a funny face. Samuel giggled.

"An' Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith are gonna come and visit us, aren't they," Floyd said looking at both partners in turn. "They're family now," he emphasized.

Heyes nodded.

"You certainly made me feel that way," said the Kid.

"Oh yeah? Now let me see; was it the cleanin', repairin', cookin', washin', nursin', bathin' or…" and now Floyd turned to Hannah with a wink, "I reckon it was braidin' hair?" He raised his eyebrows to the Kid while the children giggled.

Kid smiled. "Definitely braidin' hair."

"After all our card games, we'll want to know how you're doing in school, too," went on Heyes.

"I suppose there won't be no card games in school," Samuel pondered.

"OR at our new home! Remember, your new mother doesn't approve of cards and gamblin'," Floyd reminded his children.

Heyes winked at Samuel. "There'll be other ways to learn – better ways than the way I taught you."

After breakfast, the Walkers cleaned up the dishes and then put on their good clothes. Heyes and Curry packed their few belongings in their saddle bags.

"Take any of the food along with you. Or if there's a book you want, Joshua. It's the least I can do." Floyd wiped the rest of the foam off his face from shaving.

"Why don't you get a few things, Joshua, and I'll go get the horses." Kid put his hat on and went outside to the barn.

"I'll go help Mr. Jones with the horses," Levi said as he scurried to the door.

"Oh no you won't!" Floyd shouted. "You're clean and you will stay clean. Now sit down at the table."

Levi's shoulders slumped as he plodded to the table and sat.

"Can I wear Ma's favorite shawl for the wedding, Pa?" Hannah wore a blue gingham dress with matching blue ribbons in her hair. She shined up her shoes the best she could and wore her best white stockings.

"You bet! Your ma would want you to have that. In fact, before we leave, why don't we all go up to the grave?"

Kid was bringing the horses for the wagon to the hitching rail when the Walkers came out of the house.

"We're goin' to the grave. We'd be honored if you and Joshua would join us."

Heyes looked at Kid's questioning eyes and did a slight nod. "We'd be happy to come along."

Once at the grave, the men removed their hats for a moment of silence.

"It sure is a beautiful place you chose, Floyd." Heyes looked around at the flowers that covered the once bare soil of the grave.

"Rose loved this hill with the flowers." A single tear escaped down Floyd's cheek. "Thanks again, Thaddeus, for what you did. It couldn't have been easy."

Kid shrugged his shoulders. "Had to be done."

"Pa, do you love Mrs. Hamilton more than Ma?" Levi asked.

Samuel and Hannah waited for an answer to the question they wondered, but did not ask.

"I'll always love your ma. We will never forget your ma and little sister. Just like Mrs. Hamilton and the boys will always love and remember Mr. Hamilton. The families are gettin' together to be whole again. You can have a ma and the Hamilton boys can have a pa. And I can have a wife and Agnes can have a husband. It'll be good for everyone. We all care about to each now and soon that carin' will turn to lovin'. You understand what I'm tryin' to say?"

Three head nodded.

"Guess it's time to go and start the new chapter in our lives. Don't want to keep Agnes and the boys waitin' for us."

When they reached the bottom of the hill, the Kid headed towards the barn. I'll get our horses and you can bring the saddle bags out, Joshua."

Curry soon brought the saddled horses to the house. "Ready to go?" he asked the Walkers and Heyes.

"Yep," came the response from all.

Curry helped Floyd get into the front seat in the wagon while the children climbed inside. "Are you sure you can drive this?"

"Sure, I have Samuel next to me and you'll be followin' if I need help." Floyd got himself comfortable in the seat.

Next, Curry assisted his partner mounting his horse. "How are you feelin'?"

"Like I'm ready to ride for awhile."

"Take it easy – don't overdo it."

Heyes gave his partner a look to back off from the mothering. Kid put both hands up and then mounted his gelding.

Soon the wagon with the Walkers, and Heyes and Curry were on the road to town.

Ten minutes into the trip, Hannah let out a cry, "Pa, I forgot Ma's shawl! You have to go back!"

"Hannah! We can't. We're gonna be late as it is."

"But Pa…" She wailed, tears springing to her eyes.

Kid heard the commotion and rode near the wagon seat. "How about if I go back for it and catch up with you? Won't take me long."

Floyd glanced back at his daughter. "If you wouldn't mind, Thaddeus. I'm sure Hannah would appreciate it."

"Where's the shawl, Hannah?" The Kid gave her a smile.

"It's in the bottom drawer in the back. That's where Ma always kept it," Hannah said as she sniffed and brushed the tears away.

"I'll catch up with you. Don't worry." Curry turned his horse around and kicked him into a gallop.

As the Kid rode back into the yard, a flood of memories overtook him – the dead bodies, his hurt partner, a scared little girl peering out of the barn, so many wounded and not knowing what to do first, Heyes' crying out for Jed, and the damage to the ranch.

He walked into the house and more memories came – the glass everywhere, bath time, Heyes on the floor, the deputy coming to the house and pulling out his gun, the braiding of hair, a despondent partner, reading aloud, and Heyes finally walking.

Kid shook his head as he found the shawl and got back on his horse. "A new chapter for the Walkers, but me and Heyes are goin' back to an old one. Nothin's changed for us. Back to bein' wanted again." He sighed in resignation and then encouraged the gelding into a lope.

Curry caught up with the group just outside of town. He slowed down by the wagon and held up the shawl. "Is this what you wanted?"

Hannah beamed. "Oh Mr. Jones, thank you sooo much!" She took the proffered shawl and wrapped it around her shoulders.

"That's beautiful on you, Miss Hannah." Curry grinned.

Hannah giggled. "Miss Hannah…"

Heyes rolled his eyes and shook his head. He mumbled, "You and damsels in distress…"

A few minutes later, they arrived at the church at the same time as Agnes and her boys.

"Perfect timin', dear," Floyd called out.

As Luke helped his mother from the wagon, she exclaimed, "Don't you all look so handsome. And Hannah, you are beautiful. And you're wearing Rose's shawl. How lovely!"

Curry quickly dismounted and helped Floyd out of the wagon and then assisted Heyes in getting off his mare.

"Are you ready to become my wife?" Floyd took Agnes' hands.

"I am."

"Then let's go inside and start the weddin'." Floyd hobbled into the church using crutches with Agnes at his side. The Walker children and Hamilton boys followed behind their parents.

Kid started towards the church when Heyes grabbed his arm.

"Kid!" he muttered urgently. Curry turned.

Coming purposely towards them was Deputy Mason. "Howdy, boys," he stated stopping in front of them and blocking their way into the church. "Good to see you up and about Mr. er…Smith." He smiled mockingly.

"Can we help you, Deputy," asked the Kid.

"Well, now I know you're keen to get on in to see the wedding and all so I won't keep you long. I also heard you were plannin' to leave straight after."

"That's right," confirmed Heyes. "Just want to congratulate the happy couple and say goodbye. Is there a problem?"

The deputy looked at them carefully. "No, I don't reckon that's gonna be a problem," he said. "I just wanted to make sure that it's clear you really say goodbye. You see, Floyd swears that you're Rose's kin and, after all you did for that family, ain't nobody gonna want to think any different." His eyes now turned to the Kid. "But I know that there's more to who you are. I watched you shootin' the other day down by the creek. Quite fancy marksmanship…"

He left the insinuation hanging in the air. Kid and Heyes stood watching the deputy, their eyes giving nothing away as they waited for him to continue.

"Well, anyway," Mason went on. "For the Walkers' sake, I'm gonna leave things as they are. But you come back here and I might just follow my hunch about the both of you bein' those famous outlaws. Do we understand one another?"

The Kid sighed. "Sure, Deputy."

"We're leaving straight after the wedding," Heyes reassured him, but with a note of sadness in his voice he continued, "And don't worry, we won't come back."

"Thank you, boys," said Deputy Mason. "Knew you'd understand. This is a nice peaceful community. Like it to stay that way." He smiled and turned back towards the town center. "Better get goin' now or you'll miss the weddin'."

It was with a slightly heavy air that the Kid helped Heyes walk up the stairs into the church and they sat down in a back pew.

The Walkers and Hamiltons were at the front with the children sitting in the pews and the parents facing the minister. Several friends were also in attendance. The brief ceremony ended with a quick kiss and the families hugging each other.

Everyone made their way out of the church and were getting in wagons to go to the Hamilton ranch for a reception.

Kid and Heyes walked up to where the Walkers were sorting out who would go in which wagon.

Floyd turned to them. "You're not comin' to the house?"

"No, I think we better move on," Kid answered as he pulled his hat down to shade his eyes.

"Are you sure you have to leave?" Agnes asked as she held Floyd's hand.

"Yes, ma'am," Heyes answered.

"You're leaving now!" cried Hannah. She ran over and flung herself at the Kid.

Goodbye, Hannah," said the Kid feeling a lump coming into his throat. "You take care of your new family for me, okay?"

"I'll miss you!" Hannah said wiping away tears. "And you, too, Mr. Smith." She turned and held him tight. Heyes patted her awkwardly on the back.

Levi also gave them both hugs, the tears coming thick and fast.

"Hey," said the Kid, crouching down to his level. "You've gotta be a big boy now with all them brothers. You just concentrate on keepin' up with them and you'll be just fine."

Levi fished a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his face. "Yeah, I'm a big boy, too," he said, jutting out his chin and giving a final sniff.

"That's right, Levi," said the Kid, squeezing his shoulder. "Off you go now."

Samuel extended his hand, but found himself instead pulled into one, and then another, strong, back-patting embrace. He turned away quickly to wipe away a tear.

"You keep up with your schooling, now," Heyes called after him as he went to join his new brothers on the Hamilton's wagon.

Floyd shook their hands. "Remember, you always have a place to stay when you're in the area."

Agnes gave both Heyes and Kid a peck on the cheek. "We'll be disappointed if you don't come and visit."

"We know you will," replied Kid with a slight catch to his voice, but Agnes and Floyd were clearly too distracted to understand what he meant.

"Goodbye, Floyd… Agnes," Heyes nodded to the couple as Agnes and Floyd climbed onto the Walkers' wagon and set off. The Hamilton's wagon followed on with the children waving madly at the two ex-outlaws.

"'Bye, Mr. Smith!"

"Goodbye, Mr. Jones!"

The partners gave one last wave and the Kid turned to Heyes. "Ready?"

"Yeah."

Curry helped his partner get on his mare, then mounted his gelding and they set off out of town.

Several miles later, the Kid gave a heavy sigh. "Ya know, Heyes, I'm gonna miss 'em."

"I know, Kid. Me too, but they'll be fine."

They rode along in silence for a while, each lost in their own thoughts. The sun was overhead when the Kid spoke up. "Think we should find a place to camp?"

"Why? Still a lot of daylight left."

"Yeah, but you should probably take it easy, this bein' your first day ridin' so far."

Heyes threw him an annoyed glance. "I'm fine."

"I've heard that before…" the Kid muttered.

"See that tree up ahead?" Heyes pointed to a lone cottonwood in the distance.

Puzzled, Curry nodded. "Yeah, what about it?"

"Race you!" his partner yelled as he kicked his horse into a lope.

Completely taken by surprise, the Kid yelled after him, "Heyes! You better not fall!" As he urged his horse after Heyes', he shouted, "'Cause I ain't puttin' you back on your horse!"

He could clearly hear the laughter coming from his friend as he urged his horse even faster up the trail, and it was the best sound he had heard in a very long time. Suddenly he knew that they, too, were gonna be fine.