New hands were arriving everyday for the past week for the upcoming roundup. Heath, as usual, casually stood in the background and watched his brother Nick question the men. This would be Heath's first roundup on the Barkley ranch as an equal with his brother. He couldn't help but feel a little overwhelmed with it all; being a Barkley was new and was taking a bit of getting used to. Heath would have preferred to be in charge of the horses and leave the moving of the herd up to Nick.
A family meeting had decided that Heath was to have equal control and authority as Nick. Heath wasn't asked if this is what he wanted and reluctantly agreed to the decision made by the rest of the family. He could see that Nick was not happy with the decision but agreed to it without protest.
Heath concentrated on the questions being asked and listened to Nick's explanations for not hiring. He was looking over towards the coral when the name Sam Watson was given. Heath looked the man over. "Nick!"
Nick turned around and looked at Heath. Heath shook his head. Nick gave Heath a confused look and ignored his brother's input. Satisfied with the new hands answers, Nick hired him despite Heath's objection. Sam Watson gave Heath the once over and walked away not indicating if he recognised Heath.
Heath sighed and bowed his head. Sam Watson would be trouble. Heath recognised him from Caterson prison, although a fellow union soldier, he was part of a gang called Raiders, who stole from fellow soldiers. Some of the newer soldiers punished caught Raiders but Watson had somehow avoided being caught.
Heath knew it would be no point asking Nick to fire Watson. Nick would do the opposite to whatever Heath wanted just to make the point 'I'm in charge!' to Heath. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly, willing the blood curdling memories to take their place behind the prison walls in his mind. All it would take would be a name, a smell or a sound to cause a memory to escape and it would then take all of his concentration to catch it and put it back where it belonged. Having Sam Watson on the drive would cause Heath great distress and it would take all his inner strength to keep the locked up memories within the confines of the walls in his mind.
Heath walked away and entered the tack room. He tidied up the room and started to get together the gear that would be needed for the roundup. Noticing that some of the items needed repairing, he got to work and managed to block out all his unwanted memories by concentrating on the job at hand. He was concentrating so intensely that he lost all track of time.
"Heath!" Jarrod called to his brother and noticed the startled look on Heath's face when he entered the room. "It's time for supper and…since this will be the last meal the family will have together for a couple of weeks…I have been summoned to get you." Jarrod's smile faltered when his younger brother frowned. He saw a shadow pass over Heath's eyes.
"I'll just finish up here Jarrod and I'll be right in." Heath replied in his quiet manner.
Jarrod worried about his new younger brother. He had fought to be a part of this family but he could see that it was overwhelming him at the same time. Jarrod felt a little guilty for not trying to make the transition into the family a little easier for his brother but with his work load and the quietness of his brother, to the point of forgetting he was in the room, he really hadn't had the time to get to know him.
"Don't take too long. Mother doesn't like to be kept waiting." Jarrod said teasingly.
Heath gave a half smile and nodded his head. When Jarrod left he sighed and put the tools he had been using away. He really didn't feel like eating but would put an appearance in and try to eat enough to satisfy Mrs Barkley. He hoped that by just being there would be enough and that no one would comment on the amount of food left on his plate. Memories of Caterson always affected his appetite, having been starved for his eight months of captivity.
Heath entered the house by the back stairs and quickly washed up and changed his shirt. He walked down the large staircase slowly and listened for the sounds of his family. They were already seated at the table. Nick as usual was scowling at Heath for being late, Audra gave her new brother a big smile, Jarrod nodded to Heath and Victoria gave a small smile and bowed her head to say grace. He knew she was not happy with him being late but as far as Heath was concerned she should just be happy that he made the effort.
Everyone chattered about various things over dinner. Heath listened in on different conversations still trying to get to know everyone. He pushed his food around the plate; the smell of the cooked cabbage almost sent him outside. He swallowed the bile that rose in his mouth. It was a second reminder for the day and Heath knew that sleep tonight was going to be difficult. 'Thank goodness for whiskey' he thought.
Unable to keep control of his stomach Heath pushed his chair back and said, "Excuse me." Heath quickly left the room and ran to the upstairs washroom. He lost the battle of keeping what little food he had in his stomach down. He washed his face and brushed his teeth. When he sat back down everyone stopped talking.
"Is everything alright Heath?" Victoria Barkley asked her step son. She noticed that Heath was struggling with the meal and made a mental note to take cabbage off the menu.
"Yes…thankyou ma am." Heath looked up and glanced at Victoria hoping conversations would resume and the attention would be taken away from him. He tried hard not to breathe in the smell of the cabbage but found himself unable to continue eating. He picked up his napkin and put it over his mouth and nose and breathed in the smells of the clean linen. He picked up his plate and went to the kitchen. Silas looked at him questionably.
"The cabbage Silas…It reminds me too much of Caterson…I can't eat with that smell."
Silas quickly grabbed his plate and replaced it with a new plate minus the cabbage. Heath took it gratefully and took a deep breath trying to settle his nerves. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry Mr Heath. I understand. Just tell me if anything else causes you these worries." Silas patted the arm of the newest member of the family. Their early morning talks had given Silas an insight into the tormented world of Heath Thomas Barkley. He walked into the dining room with Heath and discretely drew attention away from Heath by fussing over the other members of the family with the gravy. Only Victoria noticed the elimination of the cabbage from Heath's plate.
After the meal the family relaxed in the games room. Heath threw down two quick brandies hoping his stomach would settle and that the alcohol would help him sleep.
"Did you hire enough men for the roundup?" Jarrod asked his brother Nick.
"We have enough…Could do with a few more…but we have enough to get us through. By the way Heath….What was wrong with Watson?" Nick looked at Heath challengingly.
"I know him. He's no good." Heath poured himself another drink.
"Know him from where?"
Heath sighed. "Does it matter Nick? You would hire him no matter what I said." Heath downed his drink and turned to face everyone. "Goodnight." He quickly left the room and took the stairs two at a time.
Nick shook his head and raised his hands at his brother as if to say 'See what I have to put up with.'
Jarrod frowned. "Nick, why did you employ this Watson…if Heath asked you not to?"
"He's experienced and like I said we needed more men so I wasn't going to turn away a good hand." Nick wasn't about to let Jarrod tell him who to hire for the roundup.
Jarrod shook his head. "I think you're making a mistake by not listening to Heath. Let's just hope that you don't regret it."
"I've got two thousand head to round up Pappy. Heath will have to put his dislikes aside and get on with it." Nick announced.
"LEAVE HIM ALONE!" Heath sat up, sweat dripped from his face, he gasped for air. His body was shaking so hard he couldn't stand, let alone pour some water in his glass. His door opened and the light of a lamp extended from the doorway.
"Heath? Are you alright?" Jarrod entered the room and worriedly placed the lamp down, grabbed the pitcher and poured some water into the empty glass. "Here. Drink this."
Heath shakily took the glass. He felt embarrassed as he tried to get the glass to his lips without spilling the water. He was unsuccessful. Jarrod reached out and placed his hand over Heath's and steadied his hand so he could drink. "Thanks."
Heath looked down, unable to look Jarrod in the eye. Jarrod put the glass back and smiled at Heath reassuringly. "Would you like to talk about it?"
Heath ran his hand over his face and took a deep, shaky breath. "I can't Jarrod. If I talk about it….it makes it real….and I've tried too hard to forget. It was the cabbage…the smell….it reminded me of some memories I try not to think about. It just happens sometimes and catches me off guard." Heath felt his body calming. "I'm sorry I woke you."
Heath got back under the covers telling Jarrod he wanted to go back to sleep. Jarrod rose reluctantly and lifted the lamp. "The offer is always there if ever you want to talk Heath."
"Thanks again Jarrod."
Jarrod quietly left Heath's room and as he closed the door his mother waved to him to enter her room. "Is he alright?"
"Yes mother….a little shook up but yes he's alright. He said the cabbage reminded him of some memories….they must have been bad memories." Jarrod kissed his mother's forehead and said goodnight.
Heath laid in his bed staring at the ceiling trying to push the dream back behind the wall in his mind. He had no idea how to stop the memories escaping. He hoped that being exhausted on the roundup would help him sleep and he needed to try to avoid Watson. Heath sighed; he would get no more sleep tonight. Starting the roundup tired was not good.