*Ok I think I was loosing perspective. Bad on me. Hopefully with this chapter I'll get us back to the basics of Jake's family getting through life. Hope you like it!*
The thick slurry of mud swallowed the men's boots up to their ankles as they sloshed down the street towards the barbershop. Their lifeless cargo, which they carried on a stretcher, weighed them down. The sounds of their boots slopping out of the suction of moist red clay, that was the street, made Jake sick. After recounting his story to Daniel out on the clinic's walkway, he'd begun to torture himself with the invisible stain of blood that coated his hands.
With his elbows perched on the round hitching post, he examined the smooth white palms. They didn't look the same to him. Not anymore. Slowly his eyes shifted up to the men carrying the body of Jess. When did he cease to be Jess? How had he become just, "The Body"? The light of day dimmed with the drifting ashen clouds, only to brighten as the sun fought its way through the dense woolen sky. Jake rose to his full height crossing his arms across his chest. Feeling the skin tugging painfully around his stitches, he pursed his lips. The cool breeze stung at his rain soaked clothes causing him to shiver inwardly.
Nonchalantly, Hank emerged with his usual swagger from the barbershop, and leaned against the red and white striped post. His cigar crunched between his teeth as he gestured with his thumb towards the open doors, for the men to bring the body in. He watched Jake standing in front of the clinic, erect like a bow against the wind. Though he knew Jake must be freezing to death, Hank eyed him with a new air of respect. And just as he had known more cruelty in his life, than he liked to admit, he knew the look of a tortured man. Their eyes locked with a rigid line of understanding, as they nodded to one another. Hank turned tossing his cigar in the ruddy muck, before entering the barbershop. Closing the doors behind him and twisting the open sign to read closed, Hank paused momentarily. He shook his head as he laughed at himself with disbelief at the compassion that had reared itself beyond his cool exterior. There was nothing he would not fail to do for a friend.
One less burden weighing down on Jake's shoulders, he turned his attention to Lucy. She was sitting quietly shell-shocked, as she absent-mindedly ran her finger under her swollen nose. The delicate creamy skin under her eyes was plump and pinkish from crying. Her eyelashes shimmered wetly as they clung thickly together making her blink awkwardly. Jake dug deep into the pockets of his slacks to produce his ivory colored handkerchief. With gentle wipes, he cleaned off her tiny face before asking her to blow her nose into the linen fabric. Lucy cast her head slightly off to the side like a broken doll. She didn't reach for him; nor, did she exhale with her usual dramatic flare.
"Lucinda?" Jake asked filling with alarm.
Her expression snapped like a switch as her eyes rounded darkly. Lucy's lips pursed in much the same way that Jake's did when he was perturbed. Pivoting on her bottom, she stretched her limbs out, before rubbing the stickiness from her eyes. She seemed to have been having a waking nightmare. Jake ran his finger from the bridge of her nose to the tip.
"Did that hurt?"
She shook her head burying her little fists into her skirts. Jake breathed a sigh of relief deeming this to be a product of today's events. He sat down allowing her to burrow into his side, as he wrapped his arm around her small body.
Teresa stepped out with her brows raised high. She didn't quite know how to feel. She saw her husband hiding his eyes in his perched hand. Her daughter crouched into the crook of his hurt bandaged arm. This was not how she envisioned this moment. Entwining her fingers around Jake's she pulled his hand away from his face. Through his exhaustion, he forced himself to smile. Caressing the side of his tired face with the back of her hand, she brushed her lips lovingly on his closed lids.
Gathering Lucy up into her arms, she waited as Jake steadied himself on her small frame. Together they walked down the street towards the parked wagons. This mess was best left for tomorrow, she thought as she herded her family onto the wagon. Taking Jake's waiting hand Teresa pulled herself onto the high bench and took the reigns from a grateful Jake. The thick leather straps felt awkward in her small-laced hands. As she lightly flicked the horses into tread, Jake rested his head sleepily on her shoulder, his arm draped around her back. Under the loud jostling of the wagon and the clapping of the horse's hooves, Lucy snored daintily into her father's damp side.
Teresa sent up a silent prayer. Just get us home. Just get us home.